Post-Grant Reports


Using Learning Assessments to Evaluate the Need for Course Prerequisites

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Economics | Education | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research


This study uses students’ performance on a departmental pre- and posttest in principles of economics to evaluate potential course prerequisites. Scores are disaggregated to examine how a student’s background affects the probability of positive learning, where positive learning occurs when a student answers a question incorrectly on the pretest and correctly on the posttest (Walstad and Wagner, 2016). A panel dataset is constructed using the performance of an individual student on each of the 40 pre-and post-test questions. In addition to assessment scores the dataset contains previous math and (high school) economics courses taken, ACT and SAT scores, reason for taking the course, course load, credits completed, and other demographic information of 323 students who enrolled in one of 12 sections between Fall 2009 and Spring 2015.

A mixed effects logistic regression, with random effects for the student and fixed effects for the question, is estimated. Preliminary results suggest that completing MATH 140 or MATH 160 increases the probability of learning. While SAT scores increase the probability of learning, we find that students with SAT Math scores (or the ACT Math equivalent) below 500 are significantly less likely to demonstrate learning on the post-test. We find no evidence that high school economics classes, parents’ education level, course load, state where a student graduated high school, or motivation for taking the course (required vs LC) effect learning in ECON 210. Finally, the fraction of students enrolled in the course not meeting the proposed prerequisite is used to test for potential peer effects on the learning of students who satisfied the prerequisites. The effect of implementing the proposed prerequisites on enrollments and course sequencing and a broader discussion of the use of learning assessments to determine the appropriateness of prerequisites for a course concludes the paper.


This research was conducted as part of a Linfield College Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Grant in 2016, funded by the Office of Academic Affairs.

The student collaborator was Haley Oliver.

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