In hopes of boosting achievement for students with low math skills, a large number of schools and districts have employed the policy of “double dose” math courses (an additional math instruction period during the school day) in middle or early high school. We know very little about the effectiveness of this intervention and whether previously-reported impacts are generalizable to different settings and implementation structures. In the current dissertation, I use a mixed methods approach across three studies to focus on an individual school district that implemented, discontinued, and then re-implemented double dose math courses as an intervention for struggling middle school students.
In Chapter 1, I analyze the effectiveness of the original implementation of seventh-grade support courses on math achievement for low performing math students and find no significant impacts for students very close to the enrollment cutoff but modest, positive intent-to-treat effects on standardized test scores across all eligible students. I also find increased achievement gains for treatment students with the lowest prior math achievement and English Language Learners. In Chapter 2, I develop a case study on the decision-making processes of the school district administrators within this time period using research on organizational sensemaking (Vaughan, 1996; Weick, 1995) and collective sensemaking in educational settings (Coburn, 2001) as a theoretical framework. Decision making regarding the policy was shown to be sensitive to changing state policy and curricular standards, student test scores, and pressures from resources and organizational structure. In Chapter 3, I document the changes to the intervention’s implementation structure and test the impact of the new version. I find modest, positive benefits on standardized test scores for treated students (especially intervention students with the highest previous math achievement) but no impacts on math course grades or failure rates.
Together, these studies add depth to the literature on double dose math courses as an intervention for math achievement, analyze a unique policy environment in which two different versions of the same intervention are compared, and offer insights into the decision-making process regarding this policy and curricular policies in general. Policy considerations and ideas for future research are also discussed.