Getting Back on Track: What Math Content Is Taught and Learned in Online and Face-to-Face Algebra Credit Recovery Courses?

Kirk Walters, Jessica Heppen, Suzanne Taylor, Nicholas Sorensen, Jordan Rickles, and
The Back on Track Study was designed to provide information for districts around the country faced with decisions about offering credit recovery course options.

Online courses can serve as a practical way for students to recover credit in courses they have failed. These courses provide flexibility and convenience for schools and students; some may also have the potential to present course content in a more engaging and customized way than a standard face-to-face course. The Back on Track Study is an ongoing study of online versus face-to-face credit recovery for at-risk ninth graders.

This research brief is one in a series investigating the implementation and impacts of the credit recovery courses in the study. It evaluates the content provided in online and face-to-face algebra credit recovery courses and reveals possible differences based on instructor preferences and district guidelines.

Key Findings

  • All of the online course content covered second-semester (Algebra IB) topics, whereas only 50% of the content in the face-to-face classes covered Algebra IB topics. The other 50% of the content in the face-to-face classes addressed a mix of prealgebra and first-semester (Algebra IA) topics.
  • The online course content followed a conventional sequence, within and across Algebra IB units. In contrast, 70% of the content in the face-to-face classes followed a conventional sequence; the other 30% of the face-to-face content appeared to be sequenced haphazardly.
  • Students in the online course on average completed less than two thirds of the course and struggled on end-of-unit assessments within the course.
  • Students’ grades were lower in the online course than in the face-to-face classes. Less than one third of online students earned a grade of “C” or higher, compared with more than half of students in face-to-face classes. Tests and quizzes accounted for about 60% of students’ final grades in the online course, compared with about 50% in the face-to-face classes.
  • Student scores on the end-of-course algebra test administered for this study were low overall in both types of courses. However, students In the online course scored significantly lower than the face-to-face students on this assessment, including lower on prealgebra, Algebra IA, and Algebra IB item sets.