College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Study Sparks Conversations About Equal Access to Acceleration Programs

By Urban Education Contributor — May 11, 2017 3 min read
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This week we are hearing from Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest (@RELMidwest). Today’s post is the practitioner perspective on the research introduced in Monday’s post: New Study Sheds Light on Students in Acceleration Programs.

This post is by Meredith Fergus, PhD, Manager of Financial Aid Research and Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System Coordinator at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (@MnOfficeHiEd).

Acceleration programs—challenging courses in which students have the opportunity to simultaneously earn credit toward a high school diploma and a postsecondary degree (i.e., dual credit)—play an important role in Minnesota’s workforce development strategy. However, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education lacked information on the students who participated in acceleration programs and received college credit, as well as these students’ college outcomes. In 2014, our office partnered with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, under its former College and Career Success Research Alliance, to answer these questions. Read the report to see the results of this study, or check out the recent blog post from REL Midwest researcher Lyzz Davis.

This project covered a couple of “firsts” for Minnesota. It was one of the first Minnesota studies on the impact of dual credit on postsecondary enrollment. Additionally, this project was the first external research study approved to use Minnesota’s Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (SLEDS), which houses all education data from prekindergarten through Grade 20 in Minnesota.

The idea for this study sat on the shelf for five years until our partnership with REL Midwest provided the staffing and research assistance to get the project off the ground. As a neutral party, REL Midwest also provided a valuable perspective on the results. Throughout the project, our staff had a very collaborative relationship with REL Midwest. We managed data access and assisted with data cleaning and interpretation. REL Midwest involved us in every stage of the study process. The team sought our input on figuring out what data to use, solving measurement issues, interpreting preliminary results, thinking through policy and practice implications, and other aspects of the project.

This research has sparked conversations in Minnesota about credit transfer and access to acceleration programs. The Minnesota Department of Education will use the report to develop career and college resources for school districts. Additionally, the information about dual-credit opportunities will be valuable to districts as they develop their goals and strategies to increase career and college readiness, especially for underrepresented students, for their World’s Best Workforce plans.

We expect that this report will inspire discussions on how to ensure all students are prepared for admission to college-level courses. For example, there are state policies on eligibility for participation in postsecondary enrollment options programs and concurrent enrollment. For the most part, Minnesota’s American Indian, Black, and Hispanic students are not meeting eligibility benchmarks. Attention needs to be paid to better preparing students of color so they can be eligible for dual-credit courses and rigorous high school courses.

A favorable finding from the study is that there is value in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, which typically do not have entry barriers, even if the student does not perform well on the exam or receive college credit. Our findings suggest experience in these courses helps prepare all students for handling college-level courses. High schools such as St. Louis Park High School outside Minneapolis have found they could greatly increase the number of students of color taking those courses by reaching out to them and providing support, when needed, to help them succeed.

We’re excited to see how the results of this partnership inform policy and practice discussions about dual-credit opportunities for Minnesota’s high school students.

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.