School districts across the country have struggled to increase the proportion of students taking algebra by 8th grade, thought to be an important milestone on the pathway to college preparedness. We highlight key features of a research collaboration between the Wake County Public School System and Harvard University that have enabled investigation of one such effort to solve this problem. In 2010, the district began assigning middle school students to accelerated math coursework leading to 8th grade algebra on the basis of a clearly defined measured of prior academic skill. We document two important facts. First, use of this new rule greatly reduced the relationship between course assignment and student factors such as income and race while increasing the relationship between course assignment and academic skill. Second, using a regression discontinuity analytic strategy, we show that the assignment rule had strong impacts on the fraction of students on track to complete algebra by 8th grade. Students placed in accelerated math were exposed to higher-skilled peers but larger class sizes. We describe future plans for assessing impacts on achievement and high school course-taking outcomes.


Dougherty, Shaun M., Joshua S. Goodman, Darryl V. Hill, Erica G. Litke, and Lindsay C. Page. "Middle School Math Acceleration and Equitable Access to 8th Grade Algebra: Evidence from the Wake County Public School System." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP14-029, June 2014.