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Taking a Closer Look at All Forms of Accelerated Learning in Oregon

By Michelle Hodara | January 15, 2019

Michelle Hodara
Michelle Hodara leads research and evaluation projects on programs, policies and practices that improve students' college access and success.

Across the country, students are getting a jump-start on their postsecondary education by earning college credits while they are still in high school.

In Oregon, this is known as accelerated learning—and one in three high school students in the state are participating in it. Accelerated learning includes the following opportunities to earn college credit while in high school:

  • High school-based college credit partnerships (for example, dual credit, that is community college or university courses offered at a high school)
  • Direct enrollment at a community college or university
  • Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) courses and exams

Up to this point, most research on accelerated learning in Oregon has focused on dual credit, but based on our work with a cross-section of K–12 and postsecondary stakeholders, REL Northwest decided to dive deeper.

Specifically, our recent study examined all forms of accelerated learning in Oregon, with an emphasis on accessibility and outcomes.

In addition, per stakeholders’ request, the study explored credit transfer, a topic for which there has been little research conducted at either the state or national level.

Making a Difference

The REL Northwest study found that participation in all forms of accelerated learning is related to positive student outcomes.

Compared with similar classmates in the class of 2015 who did not participate in any form of accelerated learning, students who took:

  • An AP course and/or exam were 40 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school
  • A career and technical education dual-credit course were 32 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school
  • Any dual-credit course were 30 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school
  • A direct enrollment course were 20 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school

Accelerated learning also has a positive relationship with college enrollment and persistence, and its influence on outcomes was just as large, if not larger, for American Indian/Alaska Native students, Black students, and Latino students.

The results of the study suggest that accelerated learning offers various benefits and is an important part of the high school experience—it may give students a head start to college through exposure to postsecondary systems (e.g., having to register for a college class or transfer exam scores/credits to college) and expectations.

Shining a Spotlight on Challenges

The REL Northwest study also showed that there are areas for improvement and/or further research.

For instance, the study found that low-income students transferred fewer accelerated learning credits to college than their peers—which underscores the importance of providing these students with more guidance at both the high school and college level.

Further, the study found that 24 percent of students who passed a dual-credit math course took the same or a lower math course in college than they took in high school.

This finding further emphasizes that we need to make sure students are reporting college classes they took in high school to avoid retaking courses they may have already passed.

In addition, the study found that students who participate in accelerated learning tend to already be on track to graduate from high school.

For example, meeting or exceeding state standards on the math and reading assessments in grade 8 is a key predictor of participation in accelerated learning in high school across all models of accelerated learning.

On the other hand, students who do not participate in accelerated learning are more likely to be members of underserved groups, such as mobile students (in this study, students who attended multiple middle schools), low-income students (students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch at any point in K–12), students with an individualized education program at any point in K–12, current English learner students in high school, and some students of color (Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Pacific Islander students).

These findings highlight the importance of high school success efforts that start early, as well as targeting supports to students historically underrepresented in accelerated learning.

REL Northwest hopes this study will be a jumping-off point for future research on these issues and that it helps inform policy and legislative discussions that can improve access to and student outcomes in accelerated learning programs in Oregon.