One Course, Many Outcomes: A Multi-Site Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Early Algebra Across California Middle Schools

Research Rundown Issue: December '19
Publisher: Annenberg Institute at Brown University
Date Published: November '19


Automatic enrollment policies, where students who demonstrate proficiency are automatically placed in the most rigorous course available the following year, are gaining in popularity as a way to ensure all students—not just those hand-picked for the opportunity—have access to engaging, high-level coursework. This analysis looked at outcomes for over 500 public middle schools in California that use a 7th-grade achievement threshold to place students in 8th-grade Algebra. They found that enrolling students in 8th-grade Algebra boosts their chances of taking advanced math courses by 30 percentage points in 9th grade and 16 percentage points in 11th grade. Importantly, women, students of color, and English learners disproportionately benefited from access to the accelerated coursework. The study also found that implementation of the policy matters. In particular, they found that the benefits of 8th grade Algebra were much larger in schools that automatically enrolled students who were at least “Proficient” on the 7th grade statewide, standardized math assessment, as compared to those that did not.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

recent report on rigorous coursework from the Minnesota Department of Education illustrates large disparities in Advanced Placement participation and exam passage rate between students of color and white students. For the class of 2018, only 19% of black, 14% of Native American, and 18% of Latino students took an AP course, as compared to 34% of white students. To tackle disparities in rigorous coursework, four states—Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina, and Washington—have passed automatic enrollment policies, which are meant to ensure that students with qualifying test scores in a particular subject are automatically enrolled in advanced coursework in the same subject area. In North Carolina, as many as 10,000 students had access to advanced math courses that they would not otherwise have had access to. Similarly, in Washington, enrollment in advanced courses tripled for historically underserved students in the state’s fourth-largest school district. Districts should examine their rigorous coursework data and consider adopting an automatic enrollment policy, and state policymakers should do the same.

Read the full report