Getting Back on Track: Who Needs to Recover Algebra Credit After Ninth Grade?

Suzanne Taylor, AIR
Elaine Allensworth, University of Chicago
Valerie Michelman, University of Chicago
The Back on Track Study was designed to provide information for districts around the country faced with decisions about offering credit recovery course options.

The Back on Track study was designed to examine whether students who took an online Algebra I credit recovery course over the summer had different educational outcomes at the end of the course than students who took a face-to-face Algebra I credit recovery course.

This brief describes the characteristics of students who failed Algebra I in ninth grade in the large urban school district where the study took place, to better understand the population of students who are served by credit recovery courses.

Key Findings

The findings presented in this brief suggest that most students who needed Algebra I credit recovery after their ninth-grade year faced multiple academic challenges, on average, compared with students who passed Algebra I:

  • Students who failed Algebra I entered high school with greater preexisting math and reading deficits.
  • Students who failed Algebra I exhibited greater school disengagement warning signs during ninth grade in terms of attendance and discipline issues.
  • Students who failed Algebra I were much more likely to have failed multiple courses during ninth grade.


For most of these students, getting back on the track toward graduation requires more than just recovering the Algebra I credit they failed to receive in ninth grade. Student who fail algebra need substantial support to address the issues that interfere with their school attendance and help them recover credit in multiple subjects. As a result, interventions designed to get students back on track for graduation after failing algebra could be more successful if they address broader issues of student academic deficits and engagement in addition to specific shortcomings in algebra content knowledge.

Jordan Rickles
Principal Researcher
Jessica Heppen
President and CEO