Research Brief: Broadening Access to Algebra I: The Impact on Eighth Graders Taking an Online Course
Online courses are increasingly seen as a viable way to expand the number and types of courses offered and broadening access to key courses, particularly in small and rural schools. Algebra I in middle school exemplifies an important course that educators and policymakers want to be more available to students.
To study the effectiveness of using an online course to broaden eighth graders’ access to Algebra I, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) performed the first rigorous evaluation of the impact of an online course on student outcomes. This three-year study, Access to Algebra I: The Effects of Online Mathematics for Grade 8 Students, examined the effects of offering a fully online Algebra I course to eighth-grade students in mostly rural schools in Maine and Vermont.
The study found that offering Algebra I as an online course is an effective way to broaden access for students in schools where access to the course is typically limited. 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.
This brief describes the study’s purpose, methods, findings, and implications.