SLU research: ‘Double-dose’ algebra program can lead to college attainment


ST. LOUIS – Taking two periods of algebra in high school can lead to college attainment for low-income and minority students.

That finding is from a new study, “Effects of Double-Dose Algebra on College Persistence and Degree Attainment,” that followed two cohorts of ninth-grade students over a 12-year period in the Chicago Public Schools.

The school district first introduced “double-dose algebra” in 2003.

Incoming ninth-graders who had eighth-grade made scores that were below the national median were required to take two periods of math. One period was for learning algebra and an additional period was for learning foundational prealgebra skills.

Double-dose algebra significantly increased semesters of college attended and college degree attainment for median-skill students scoring at or above the 50th percentile in the 2003 cohort, according to research findings.   

Takako Nomi, Ph.D., associate professor of educational studies at Saint Louis University, led the study. Her work focuses on educational policy and equity.

“This provides unique insight for districts that provide extra instruction but are unable to rigorously study the impact of those programs,” Nomi said. 

Nomi additionally serves as a research affiliate at the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research.

“A key takeaway from the study is how schools chose to implement the policy matters,” Nomi said.

Fewer schools implemented the double-dose algebra program in 2004 than in 2003.

“Most schools that did strongly comply in 2004, did so by placing their median-skill double-dose students in low-skill algebra classrooms,” according to the study.  

In terms of classroom peer composition, “the impact was largest when schools didn’t group double-dose students with low-skilled students,” Nomi said.

The study found that the program was not effective when students were placed in double-dose classes with peers who were lower-skilled than them.

“Subsequent research should address the design of optimal policies for lower-skill students,” Nomi said.

“A math intervention far more intensive than double-dose algebra is essential to improve their high school and postsecondary outcomes.”

Additionally, the study states that ninth-grade students who fail math also tend to fail other core classes.  

“It’s not just a math issue,” Nomi said. “The policy of giving extra math is not enough to change the trajectory for the students who struggle the most. It’s important to support struggling students in general.”

Other authors include Stephen W. Raudenbush, Ed.D., of the department of sociology at the University of Chicago; and Jake J. Smith, of Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.     

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