Momentum Metrics Innovation Spotlight: Improving Access to Advanced Courses in Hamilton County
Advanced courses—including AP, IB, and dual enrollment—offer many benefits to students who enroll. These courses can help students earn postsecondary credit while still in high school, build familiarity with college course requirements, and develop students’ academic skills and confidence. Students who participate in advanced courses are also more likely to enroll and persist in postsecondary education. Despite these many benefits, students do not have equal access to these courses and significant participation gaps exist for students of color and low-income students.
The Potential for Advanced Coursework metric is an important indicator for districts to monitor to ensure students are participating and succeeding in advanced courses at equitable rates. The goal of this metric is never to gate keep, but to identify students who are likely to be successful in an advanced course who may not be considering enrolling. Analyzing advanced course data can also help districts identify where there are gaps in access among schools and which courses the district should be offering.
Through their participation in ESG’s Momentum Metrics Network, Hamilton County Schools identified Potential for Advanced Coursework as an area of growth for the district. Hamilton County is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee and serves around 45,000 students every year. The district offers a variety of early postsecondary opportunities (EPSOs) to their students including AP, IB, dual credit, and dual enrollment and has expanded access to these opportunities in recent years. In 2021, Hamilton County launched a micro college in collaboration with Chattanooga State Community College at three high schools which allows students to take a set of introductory college courses during high school in a supportive environment.
Despite Hamilton County’s investment in expanding early postsecondary opportunities, the fact remained that participation in each EPSO varied widely across schools. First, the team wanted to connect historic EPSO participation data to National Student Clearinghouse data in order to understand how those programs are related to postsecondary enrollment and persistence. After controlling for those with a 3.0 GPA or higher, they saw that college enrollment rates varied based on which EPSO students participated in. While students who participated in IB had the highest enrollment rate, the program was only offered at one school. Dual enrollment participants had the next highest enrollment rate at 92%, but when they looked at dual enrollment participation data, they noticed that access to courses varied widely across schools. In particular, students at the lowest-income schools had the lowest dual enrollment participation rates.
While this historical analysis helped the Hamilton team to determine past trends in EPSO enrollment, they were only able to look at EPSO participation data after high school graduation—too late to impact current students’ access and opportunity. In order to address this challenge, the team turned their attention to cleaning their data warehouse to more accurately track EPSO enrollment and success. This included developing common course codes in the data warehouse to track EPSO participation in real time and tying AP and IB exam scores to course enrollment so the district could see whether students passed the course and earned postsecondary credit. The district also hired a new coordinator to oversee EPSOs who interviewed school leaders and counselors to better understand the implementation and access barriers occurring at the school level.
With the updates to the data warehouse, the district will have the ability to track EPSO access across the district, principals will be able to track EPSO access in their own schools, and counselors can track individual student’s progress. Moving forward, the dual enrollment coordinator—equipped with better data—will work with schools and counselors to move toward each school’s goal for improving equity in EPSO participation.