Title: Raising the Bar: Curricular Intensity and Academic Performance
Author: Attewell, Paul; Domina, Thurston
Publication Information: Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis; v.30 n.1, p51-71.
ERIC number: EJ786477
Abstract: Using longitudinal survey data of high school students from the NELS88, the authors addressed two primary concerns. First, do different groups of students have unequal access to intense curricula? Second, does an increase in curricular intensity lead to academic growth, in the form of increased test scores and college entry rates? A counterfactual model utilizing propensity score matching to control for family and education background effects revealed within-school disparity in curricular access between socioeconomic levels rather than between races. The authors also found that curricular intensity has a small but significant effect on test scores, college entry, and college graduation rates. They confirmed concerns of curricular tracking and the benefits of an upgraded curriculum, but demonstrated that such benefits are minor and inconsistent at different levels of curricular intensity. Their findings led the researchers to conclude that curriculum can serve as a policy lever, but that advocates of increased curricular intensity have been overly optimistic. Additionally, because the level of academic difficulty had an effect on outcomes at all student performance levels, the authors suggested that curricular upgrades should be made at all levels, rather than only for high-performing students.