New Study Examines Whether Oregon’s Investment in Accelerated Learning Is Paying Off

December 2018
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In the 2015–16 school year, one in three Oregon public high school students participated in some form of accelerated learning—dual credit, direct enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP), and/or International Baccalaureate (IB).

This is one of several findings in a new study by Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest that offers a first glimpse at how a statewide initiative in Oregon has impacted students’ participation in these programs.

Research has shown that accelerated learning can improve students’ postsecondary outcomes by preparing them for college through increased academic rigor and expectations in high school, shortening the time to complete a postsecondary degree and reducing college costs through the accumulation of college credits. Based on this evidence, Oregon is one of several states that has made a significant effort to increase access to these programs.

This REL Northwest study explores Oregon students’ participation in accelerated learning in the 2013–14 to 2015–16 school years, as well as the school- and student-level characteristics that predict participation in an accelerated learning program. The study also looks at high school-to-college outcomes and how many students were able to transfer the credits they earned.

“This study found several positive outcomes,” said Michelle Hodara, a coauthor of the study. “Many public high school students in Oregon are earning college credits in various ways, and this high school experience is linked to much higher high school graduation, college enrollment and college persistence.”

In the class of 2015, for example, accelerated learning participants were 30 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school, 25 percentage points more likely to enroll in college, and 22 percentage points more likely to persist in college than their peers who did not take accelerated learning in high school—and these findings were consistent for students of color.

Equity gaps in participation remain, however, particularly for students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and students who attended schools with a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students. “There is still work to be done to ensure that low-income students have equitable access to accelerated learning and that low-income schools are able to offer AP and IB at the same rates as higher income schools,” Hodara said.

While college persistence rates were high for students who took accelerated learning courses, 15 percent of students in the class of 2015 transferred less than half the credits they earned in high school to the Oregon public university they subsequently attended. Meanwhile, nearly 25 percent of students who earned credit from dual-credit math in high schools and 9 percent who earned credit from dual-credit English in high school took the same course or a lower level course at their university or community college.

“This study was not designed to identify why students’ college credits are not accepted at the colleges and universities they attend after high school,” said Hodara, “but we found that low-income students have fewer college credits accepted, suggesting the need for more advising around credit transfer for high school students who may be first-generation or low-income. Additionally, high schools and colleges should examine their math pathways, since about a quarter of students who passed a dual credit math course took the same or a lower course in college.”

Oregon has invested extensively in expanding access to accelerated learning, and education leaders from state agencies and secondary and postsecondary institutions are committed to ensuring that these programs are sustainable, equitable, and effective. The data presented in this study will be used to inform policy and legislative discussions to improve the accelerated learning programs in the state.

Check out a REL Northwest infographic that breaks down the study's key points and findings and download the full report.