The Influence of a Statewide College-Prep Curriculum on Student Outcomes


Summary

In 2006, the state of Michigan adopted a comprehensive set of high school graduation requirements known as the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC). These requirements were designed to increase the rigor of high school course-taking in Michigan and better prepare Michigan students for postsecondary success. The MMC is more specific and academically challenging in its required coursework than the previous state requirements, as well as those of most other states. The first students covered by the MMC started ninth grade in the fall of 2007 and would have been scheduled for an on-time graduation in spring 2011.

The MMC emphasizes academic preparation in mathematics and science. Students are required to take Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, as well as Biology 1 and either Chemistry or Physics. Students must also take four years of English Language Arts and complete two years of a foreign language. These requirements are in contrast to requirements prior to the MMC, when only about a third of districts required four years of math and three years of science. By mandating well over 50 percent of the courses that students must take, the MMC brings a greater level of standardization to the high school academic experience across Michigan. The policy does, however, allow flexibility in elective choices and allows struggling students to meet the MMC requirements through a "personal curriculum" option, available on a very limited basis.

Accountability for ensuring that students meet requirements comes in the form of end-of-course exams that students must pass. These exams are developed and benchmarked at the local level. Students are also required to take the Michigan Merit Exam (MME), a standardized test administered in the spring of the eleventh grade year. This exam, first administered in spring 2007, is intended to be aligned with the MMC. Further, the MME includes the ACT and SAT, nationally-normed college entrance examinations.

How is the Study Funded?

This research is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305E1000008 to the University of Michigan. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

Who is on the Project Team?

Susan Dynarski, co-principal investigator
Brian Jacob, co-principal investigator

The Partners

The Michigan Consortium for Educational Research (MCER) is a partnership between the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), Michigan State University (MSU), and the University of Michigan (UM). At the MDE, the Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI), Office of Educational Assessment and Accountability (OEAA), and the Office of School Improvement (OSI) all actively participate in the consortium. The College of Education at MSU and the UM Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy's Education Policy Initiative and the UM School of Education make up the consortium's other active members.

What are the Research Objectives?

The goal of MCER is to engage key stakeholders and experts in high quality education research for the benefit of public education in Michigan and nationwide. To reach this goal, MCER is currently evaluating the impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum and the Michigan Promise Scholarship on student outcomes.

Analytical Approach

We identify the effect of the MMC on student performance, high school graduation, and college enrollment. To do so, we examine trends over time in these outcomes, looking for sharp changes with the introduction of the MMC. Statisticians refer to this approach as an "interrupted time-series" analysis. For example, in this approach, we use trends in high school graduation rates before the MMC to predict high school graduation rates after the MMC. Deviations from these predicted graduation rates are interpreted as the effect of the MMC. This approach has been used by researchers to evaluate several district- and state-initiated reforms, including comprehensive Accelerated Schools, Talent Development, and district-wide high-stakes testing.

The key assumption underlying our analysis is that deviations from the pre-MMC trend in the outcomes of interest are caused by the MMC. This assumption would be violated if 1) the student body changed sharply in Michigan just as the MMC was introduced, or 2) other conditions changed sharply in Michigan at the same time as the MMC (e.g., education reforms, economic environment). Either would cause us to mistakenly attribute differences that were actually due to changes in students and other policies to the MMC. Note that given our approach, slow-moving changes in (for example) student composition will not bias the estimates.

We use a number of analytic approaches to try to minimize such errors. We incorporate a rich set of student and school characteristics in our equations, including individual students' prior achievement. Through our partnership with the state, we have been able to confirm that other statewide education policies did not change in concert with the MMC. Moving forward, we will continue to explore the possibility of confounding policies at the district level. We will also conduct analyses in which we compare the experiences of students in Michigan under the MMC to the outcomes of students in other states with similar reforms.

Data

In order to examine the effects of the MMC on a range of student outcomes, we used administrative data from the State of Michigan. These data provided information on first-time ninth grade students from the academic year (AY) 2004-05 to the present. These data included information on students' gender, race/ethnicity, and past academic performance (i.e., eighth grade test scores), as well as information about their high schools. For each student in the sample, we observed high school test scores (the MME and ACT), as well as information about high school completion and college enrollment.

In some of our analyses, we divided students into four groups based on their academic readiness when they entered high school. We used eighth grade test scores, students' demographic characteristics, and school characteristics to sort students into these four groups.

Publications

Online Class Size Comparison Tool

Michigan Class Size comparison tool. Explore class sizes in Michigan. http://edpolicy.umich.edu/mi-class-size-comparison-tool/

The Impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum on High School Math Course-Taking

“The Impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum on High School Math Course-Taking.” 2019. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 41:2, pp. 164-88 Co-authors: Brian Jacob, Barbara Schneider, Kenneth Frank, and Soobin Kim.

Abstract

Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC) is a statewide college-preparatory policy that applies to the high school graduating class of 2011 and later. Using detailed Michigan high school transcript data, this article examines the effect of the MMC on various students’ course-taking and achievement outcomes. Our analyses suggest that (a) post-MMC cohorts took and passed approximately 0.2 additional years’ of math courses, and students at low socioeconomic status (SES) schools drove nearly all of these effects; (b) post-policy students also completed higher-level courses, with the largest increase among the least prepared students; (c) we did not find strong evidence on students’ ACT math scores; and (d) we found an increase in college enrollment rates for post-MMC cohorts, and the increase is mostly driven by well-prepared students.

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The Impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum on High School Course-Taking

Soobin Kim, Brian Jacob, Susan Dynarski, Barbara Schneider, Kenneth Frank (2019). “The Impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum on High School Course-Taking.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.41(2).

Abstract

Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC) is a statewide college-preparatory policy that applies to the high school graduating class of 2011 and later. Using detailed Michigan high school transcript data, this article examines the effect of the MMC on various students’ course-taking and achievement outcomes. Our analyses suggest that (a) post-MMC cohorts took and passed approximately 0.2 additional years’ of math courses, and students at low socioeconomic status (SES) schools drove nearly all of these effects; (b) post-policy students also completed higher-level courses, with the largest increase among the least prepared students; (c) we did not find strong evidence on students’ ACT math scores; and (d) we found an increase in college enrollment rates for post-MMC cohorts, and the increase is mostly driven by well-prepared students.

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Using Longitudinal Data to Understand Income Gaps in Educational Outcomes

Susan Dynarski, Katherine Michelmore

Abstract

In the US, gaps in educational achievement between high-income and low-income children have been rising for decades. Much of the research documenting these gaps focuses on contemporaneous measures of economic disadvantage, which understate the persistent disadvantage experienced by a subset of children. Using school administrative data from the state of Michigan, we create measures of persistent disadvantage, as proxied by repeated eligibility for subsidized meals. We show that traditional measures of contemporaneous disadvantage understate the achievement gap between children growing up in chronic disadvantage and those having never experienced poverty. Approximately one in four students in our sample who are ever economically disadvantaged are disadvantaged in every year between kindergarten and 8th grade. These children have significantly worse education outcomes, scoring 0.94 standard deviations below never-poor children on standardized tests. The gap based on persistent disadvantage is comparable to that estimated by Reardon (2011) between individuals with family income in the 90th percentile to those with income in the 10th percentile, while the test score gap measured using contemporaneous measures approximates the 90/50 test score gap.

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Are Expectations Alone Enough? Estimating the Effect of a Mandatory College-Prep Curriculum in Michigan

Brian Jacob, Susan Dynarski, Kenneth Frank, and Barbara Schneider. 2017. "Are Expectations Alone Enough? Estimating the Effect of a Mandatory College-Prep Curriculum in Michigan." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis Jan 20, 2017.

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[Download the working paper]

[Download the brief]

The Role of Non-Cognitive Skills on Educational Outcomes Measured by Skipping Questions on School Exams

Monica Hernandez, Jonathan Hershaff

Abstract

Economists, educators and policy-makers have become increasingly interested in the importance of socio-emotional skills for students’ performance. Conscientiousness, openness to experience, and emotional stability, among others, have been shown to be related with taking harder classes, graduating from high school and earning higher grades. Understanding the nature of the accumulation of these skills and identifying education interventions that could boost them, however, has been restricted by the availability of objective and inexpensive measures of socio-emotional skills. This paper proposes an objective and relatively inexpensive proxy for students’ socio-emotional skills directly derived from test-taking behavior. The measure is the incidence of skipping questions on a statewide standardized test. This exam has no penalties for guessing and gives students as much time as they need to answer. We believe that skipping questions is related to a reduced level of important socio-emotional skills. We find that, conditional on test scores, the incidence of skipping questions in middle school is consistently related with educational outcomes in high school and college, such as grade repetition, high school drop-out, on-time graduation and going to a 4-year college. These results are robust to the definition of skipping incidence and to the measurement of cognitive ability as captured by test scores.

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Marginal Pricing and Student Investment in Higher Education

Steven Hemelt, Kevin Stange

Abstract

This paper examines the effect of marginal price on students’ educational investments using rich administrative data on students at Michigan public universities. Marginal price refers to the amount colleges charge for each additional credit taken in a semester. Institutions differ in how they price credits above the full-time minimum (of 12 credits), with many institutions reducing the marginal price of such credits to zero. We find that a zero marginal price induces a modest share of students (i.e., 7 percent) to attempt up to one additional class (i.e., 3 credits) but also increases withdrawals and lowers course performance. The analysis generally suggests minimal impacts on credits earned and the likelihood of meeting “on-time” benchmarks toward college completion, though estimates for these outcomes are less precise and more variable across specifications. Consistent with theory, the effect on attempted credits is largest among students who would otherwise locate at the full-time minimum, which include lower-achieving and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

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Impacts of the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Program on Student Achievement in Michigan and North Carolina

Steven Hemelt

Abstract

This study uses longitudinal administrative data from two states covering 2005-2006 to 2011-2012 to examine the effects of exposure to International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Program (PYP) on students’ academic performance in grades 3 and 5. I exploit within-school variation over time in the adoption of the PYP to estimate achievement impacts. Across both states, I find that exposure to the PYP improves the reading performance of economically disadvantaged third-graders (by about 0.10 standard deviations), with little evidence of any offsetting, harmful effects on the reading achievement of other students. Yet, I arrive at discordant conclusions about the effects of the PYP on students’ mathematics performance: In Michigan, estimates suggest that fifth-graders exposed to the PYP perform about the same as their non-PYP counterparts, and third-graders perform about 0.07 standard deviations better. In North Carolina, I find negative effects of the PYP on third- and fifth-grade math performance, especially among boys. I find no evidence that these negative impacts are mediated through differential changes in teacher turnover. I close with a discussion the practical significance of the main findings and suggest key areas of focus for future research.

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The Effects of School Spending on Educational Attainment

Joshua Hyman. Forthcoming. "Does Money Matter in the Long Run? Effects of School Spending on Educational Attainment," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.

Abstract

This paper measures the effect of increased primary school spending on students' college enrollment and completion. Using student-level panel administrative data, I exploit variation in the school funding formula imposed by Michigan's 1994 school finance reform, Proposal A. Students exposed to $1,000 (10 percent) more spending were 3 percentage points (7 percent) more likely to enroll in college and 2.3 percentage points (11 percent) more likely to earn a postsecondary degree. The effects were concentrated among districts that were urban and suburban, lower-poverty, and higher-achieving at baseline. Districts targeted the marginal dollar toward schools serving less-poor populations within the district.

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Impacts of Kindergarten Starting Age and Compulsory Schooling Laws on Postsecondary Enrollment, Choice, and Persistence in Michigan

Steven Hemelt, Rachel Rosen

Abstract

Extant research on school entry and compulsory schooling laws finds these policies to increase the high school graduation rate of relatively younger students, but weaken their academic performance. In this paper, we explore the postsecondary effects of the interaction of school entry and compulsory schooling laws in Michigan. We employ a regression discontinuity (RD) design using longitudinal administrative data to examine impacts on high school performance, college enrollment, choice, and persistence. On average, we find that children eligible to start school earlier persist for fewer postsecondary semesters, and are 2 percentage points more likely to first attend a 2-year (rather than 4-year) college, compared to their older peers. Relatively younger females are more likely to enroll in college, but this result does not hold for males. Finally, we illustrate that the increase in the high school graduation rate attributable to this set of laws is driven by impacts on economically disadvantaged students.

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The Missing Manual: Using National Student Clearinghouse Data to Track Postsecondary Outcomes

Susan Dynarski, Steven Hemelt, Kevin Stange, Josh Hyman

Abstract

This paper explores the promises and pitfalls of using National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data to measure a variety of postsecondary outcomes. We first describe the history of the NSC, the basic structure of its data, and recent research interest in using NSC data. Second, using information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, we calculate enrollment coverage rates for NSC data over time, by state, institution type, and demographic student subgroups. We find that coverage is highest among public institutions and lowest (but growing) among for-profit colleges. Across students, enrollment coverage is lower for minorities but similar for males and females. We also explore two potentially less salient sources of non-coverage: suppressed student records due to privacy laws and matching errors due to typographic inaccuracies in student names. To illustrate how this collection of measurement errors may affect estimates of the levels and gaps in postsecondary attendance and persistence, we perform several case-study analyses using administrative transcript data from Michigan public colleges. We close with a discussion of practical issues for program evaluators using NSC data.

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The Michigan Context - High School Attainment and College Enrollment Across the State

"The Michigan Context: High School Attainment and College Enrollment Across the State." 2012. Michigan Consortium for Educational Research brief. Susan M. Dynarski, Ken Frank, Brian Jacob, Barbara Schneider.

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Impacts of the Michigan Merit Curriculum on Student Outcomes - Preliminary Findings from the First Cohort

"Impacts of the Michigan Merit Curriculum on Student Outcomes: Preliminary Findings from the First Cohort." 2012. Michigan Consortium for Educational Research brief. Susan M. Dynarski, Ken Frank, Brian Jacob, Barbara Schneider.

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The Michigan Merit Curriculum and Teacher Compositional Change

"The Michigan Merit Curriculum and Teacher Compositional Change." 2012. Michigan Consortium for Educational Research brief. Susan M. Dynarski, Ken Frank, Brian Jacob, Barbara Schneider.

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Forthcoming Papers

  • The Effect of Early Information on College Applications among Low-Income, High Achieving Students
    Susan Dynarski, Katherine Michelmore

  • Improving Chronically Underperforming Schools? Regression-Discontinuity Evidence from NCLB Waivers
    Steven Hemelt, Brian Jacob

  • Developing and Evaluating a College-Application Course in Michigan
    Joshua Hyman, Brandy Johnson, Venessa Keesler

  • The Effect of Information about Student-Loan Forgiveness on Teacher Retention in High-Needs Schools in Michigan
    Brian Jacob, Damon Jones, Benjamin Keys

  • What is the Effect on College Enrollment of Providing High School Students with Information about College and the Application Process?
    Joshua Hyman, Venessa Keesler

  • Improving Chronically Underperforming Schools? Regression-Discontinuity Evidence from NCLB Waivers
    Steven Hemelt, Brian Jacob

  • Measuring School Performance for Excellent Schools Detroit's Report Cards
    Susan Dynarski, Brian Jacob

  • Measuring and Understanding the Effectiveness of Michigan Charter Schools
    Susan Dynarski, Brian Jacob

  • The Impact of Michigan Promise Zones on Educational Outcomes, School Funding, and Student Mobility
    Meredith Billings

  • Improving on the Student-Teacher Ratio: A Direct Measure of Class Size in Michigan Using Transcript-Level Data
    Susan Dynarski, Brian Jacob, Rene Crespin

  • Participation in Advanced Math Courses and Student Achievement in High School and College
    Sarah Cannon

  • Student Achievement in Career and Technical Education in Michigan
    Brian Jacob, Daniel Kreisman

  • Education Pathways and Labor Market Outcomes for Michigan’s Community College Students
    Susan Dynarski, Brian Jacob

  • Examining the Impact of Plant Closings on Postsecondary Choice in Michigan
    Daniel Hubbard

  • The Causes and Consequences of Teacher Turnover: New Evidence from Michigan
    Brian Jacob, Kolby Gadd, Daniel Hubbard

  • The Effect of Grade Structure on Student Performance: Middle Schools VS. K-8
    Brian Jacob, Xiaoyang Ye