What You Need To Know: Credit Recovery

Students can make up credits through online credit recovery programs. Photo by Eastern Arizona College via Flickr.

In its most basic definition, credit recovery is a way for students who have fallen behind to get back on track and obtain their high school diplomas, but what exactly is credit recovery and how much do students actually learn through credit recovery, especially online credit recovery programs?

According to The Center for Public Education credit recovery is “a structured means for students to earn missed credits in order to graduate.” Although credit recovery classes can be offered during the school year, most are scheduled during summer months when students have time to make up the classes they may have failed or quit during the regular school year.

Credit recovery comes in various forms. It can be as traditional as summer school with a teacher lecturing to a smaller sized class or a series of worksheets and accompanying tests, but now, more often than not, credit recovery programs are digital and online. Many have an off-site teacher whom students can email or engage with in web-chats, but the majority are virtual, with the instructor or teacher entirely removed from the equation. In these virtual programs, students “click through” and learn at their own pace then take tests to gauge how well they comprehended the material they just learned. For example, in Georgia, almost every credit recovery course is offered online and is presented to the students through a series of video presentations, review assignments, and unit testing. This type of credit recovery is decentralized; meaning not every school in a district has to participate, instead it is up to the individual school to decide whether they want to participate in credit recovery programs or not.

There are both pros and cons to online credit recovery programs. Advocates contend that not every student needs to sit in a classroom for an entire semester to learn the material; they say students should be able to move at their own pace and go through a lesson as slowly or quickly as it takes for them to fully understand the concept. The Center for Public Education says these, “self-paced options could reach the 43% of dropouts who believed they missed too many days and could not catch up, or the 35% who say that ‘failing in school’ was a major factor for dropping out.”

There is also a pre-testing element to most credit recovery programs so students can find out exactly where they are in a given subject, skip the information they all ready know, and instead focus on the areas where they struggle. This seems especially beneficial for students who dropped out and were only a few credits away from graduating. This program would allow them to just obtain the credits they need and not have to sit through an entire summer of courses.

Advocates also believe that credit recovery helps schools prevent dropouts. In fact, the original push for credit recovery programs came from state and federal officials focused on increasing graduation rates. In the United States the four-year graduation rate for high school students has barely budged from 70% for several decades. States are constantly under pressure to raise it though, especially since federal funding uses it to determine who will be getting more money.

Critics of virtual credit-recovery programs argue that there’s no way to be sure that students are really learning.  Some experts in New York believe that these credit recovery programs are flawed because credit recovery is “proficiency-based” rather than “time-based.” Critics wonder how much knowledge students really retain if they can finish an entire lesson in a couple hours.

Another concern about online credit recovery is the issue of equal access for all students. Although many schools administer credit recovery at a set time in internet-accessible schools, other students complete credit recovery at home, which poses a problem for those in rural areas without access to the internet.

So who’s right? Well that’s hard to tell. So far, there is little data on online credit recovery. These programs have not been around long enough for researchers to gather significant data on their effectiveness.  “There are definitely holes in the research for K-12 [education],” says Jessica B. Heppen, a senior research-analyst for the American Institute of Research, “We’re interested in comparing so-called high-quality online courses for credit recovery with taking a traditional class.”

In 2011, to help overcome this lack of research, the federal government awarded a research grant to further look at credit recovery. This research will compare ninth graders who are retaking Algebra through an online credit recovery program to ninth graders who are retaking Algebra through traditional summer school.

Do you have a personal experience with credit recovery? What do you think?

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