Access to Algebra I: The Effects of Online Mathematics for Grade 8 Students

A 2008 report by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel recommended that all prepared students should have access to an authentic algebra course—and that districts should prepare more students than at present to enroll in such a course by Grade 8. This study, conducted by AIR and Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) for the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands (REL-NEI), tested the impact of expanding access to Algebra I to grade 8 students by offering an online course in schools that do not typically offer Algebra I in grade.

The three-year study, the first randomized control trial of its kind to examine the impact of an online Algebra I course on students’ mathematics achievement and future math course enrollment, was conducted in Vermont and Maine. A total of 1,885 students from 68 schools participated in the study. Ninety percent of the schools were in rural communities. Analyses of longitudinal data from the ECLS-K study (U.S. Department of Education, 2009) indicate that a significant proportion of schools do not offer Algebra I to grade 8 students (approximately 16% nationally), and moreover, that the proportion of schools in rural areas with limited access to Algebra I is higher than in urban and suburban areas.

Study Results

Read the full report or a research brief that summarizes the study's purpose, methods, findings, and implications.

The final report results indicate that offering Algebra I as an online course to algebra-ready (AR) students is an effective way to broaden access in schools that do not typically offer Algebra I in grade 8. Specifically:

  • For students whose schools deemed them eligible for Algebra I in eighth grade, taking the course:
    • Improved their algebra achievement at the end of eighth grade, and
    • Doubled their chances of taking an advanced math course sequence in high school.
  • Taking the online course (instead of the usual eighth-grade math class) had no negative effect on students’ general math achievement at the end of eighth grade.
  • Removing eligible students from the general math class to offer them the online Algebra I course had no discernible side effects on non-eligible students’ achievement or course-taking outcomes.