Credit Recovery


-Definition and History

There is no clear federal definition of credit recovery, leading to many competing programs, whether they are online, face to face, or a combination of both. Any program that facilitates students to make up credits may be considered credit recovery . Whether the program is adequate is left to the discretion of the district, sometimes in conjunction with statewide tests (Center for Public Education, 2012).

The incentive behind the recent trend towards more comprehensive credit recovery options started with the No Child Left Behind Act, which increased schools’ accountability for their graduation rates (U.S Department of Education, 2012). Schools needed a way to increase graduation rates, and various programs arose to meet that demand.

-Seat time vs Proficiency

There is an ongoing debate as to whether a certain number of hours of seat time should be required or if credits should be assigned solely based on some measure of student competence. In recent years many states have gone in the direction of proficiency based credit recovery, with 36 states adopting policies that allow schools to give credit to students who demonstrate proficiency in a subject (National Governor’s Association, 2012). However, different states have their own criteria for what constitutes proficiency. Some states allow students to get credit by passing the state’s exam in that area, some states require those tests to count for a certain percent of the course grade, and some states leave the requirements for credit recovery programs at the discretion of the district (Center for Public Education, 2012).

-Online vs Face to Face

In a Florida study, it was shown that 9-11 graders who took online credit recovery classes were more likely to make a C or better than their counterparts who took those same courses in a traditional, face to face setting (Hughes, Zhou, & Petscher, 2015). It is hard to say, however, whether this improved grade was the result of genuine student learning, relaxed standards, or other factors. Further, it is difficult to generalize to other credit recovery programs due to their decentralized nature, although Florida’s virtual courses are used as a model by many other states (Center for Public Education, 2012). Another study showed that students who took Algebra I credit recovery courses in an online setting found the course more difficult than those in a face to face setting, had more negative attitudes about math, had lower assessment scores, grades, and credit recovery rates, although long term academic success was not significantly different in either group (American Institutes for Research, 2016).

-Pros and Cons

Pros: Credit recovery helps students who are failing get back on track, and gives them a chance to graduate on schedule. Improved graduation rates also help increase the school’s rating and funding. Online credit recovery classes can help students learn at their own pace and demonstrate that learning in an objective way. Finally, credit recovery classes can appeal to students who struggle in a traditional classroom environment and might otherwise drop out.

Cons: Because there is no standard definition of what constitutes an adequate program for credit recovery, there are some programs of questionable rigor which allow students to pretest out of whole sections of the class. Again, because of the decentralized standards of credit recovery, there are limited wide ranging studies as to the effectiveness of credit recovery programs, especially in terms of future academic success. It is unclear how often credit recovery is used to genuinely teach the content, and how often it is used just to help make it easier for students to graduate, with no pedagogical benefit.

Source: (Edgenuity, 2017)

Trend or Issue?

The use of credit recovery programs to facilitate students’ graduation is widespread and increasing. In 2011, 88% of school districts in the country were using credit recovery to address students they considered at risk of dropping out (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). The Every Student Succeeds Act continues to make schools accountable for graduation rates (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2017). Unless this accountability structure changes on the national level, this trend of widespread credit recovery is likely to continue.

This trend is difficult to precisely measure due to the decentralized and vague nature of what constitutes credit recovery. However, as credit recovery becomes more widespread, it will become more important to determine how effective these programs are. Whether they constitute genuine remediation or merely allow students to graduate with less knowledge and abilities is an open question. The issue of how to regulate credit recovery programs on the state or national level will become more urgent as it becomes a growing reality among career and college bound students.

While credit recovery programs are largely unregulated on the national level, many states have requirements that students in credit recovery programs for core classes take the relevant state level standardized test as part of their course grade. This is the main state level mandate on the rigor of credit recovery programs. Other than this, districts are free to use whichever credit recovery program they deem fit. Sometimes, this includes programs which allow students to pretest out of lessons or whole units (Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, 2016). Some programs use the same tests or test questions again and again, so students can pass by trial and error (Smiley, 2017). Since credit recovery programs can tout their ability to get struggling students to pass, the incentives are there to not use particularly rigorous programs. Evidence of inadequate credit recovery courses can be seen in Georgia, looking at students who took credit recovery courses that required a state test. In 2015, 90% of these students passed their credit recovery course, but only 10% of them scored proficient on the relevant standardized test (Bloom, 2016).

Currently, the responsibility lies largely with the school districts in what guidelines they set for their credit recovery options (Center for Public Education, 2012). These districts are being pressured by state and national accountability programs to improve graduation rates, which are seen as an indicator of a successful school system. This pressure can encourage the adoption of credit recovery programs that are not rigorous. There are similar pressures on the teachers who have regular classes during the school year. However, there are accountability programs in place for regular classroom teachers. Specifically, there are programs that hold teachers and schools responsible for their students’ standardized test scores For all their shortcomings, standardized tests can introduce a level of accountability for schools that could otherwise give up on students, not by failing them, but by passing them. What accountability is there for low quality credit recovery programs, what standard can credit recovery be held to?

The question of how to regulate credit recovery is subsumed by the question of how to regulate education in general. This broader issue involves our society as a whole, and whether we choose to treat education as a formality, a piece of paper which we give to those willing to put in the time, effort, or money, or as a meaningful standard which we hold ourselves to in how we think and how we teach our children to think.

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This page provides an overview of credit recovery in the United States, how it works, and the issues involved.
(Center for Public Education, 2012)

This page discusses how the No Child Left Behind Act makes states accountable for graduation rates.
(U.S Department of Education, 2012)

This page discusses the broad national shift from time based credits to proficiency based credits.
(National Governor’s Association, 2012)

This study compared passing rates for students in online and face to face courses.
(Hughes, Zhou, & Petscher, 2015)

This study compared the efficacy of online and face to face credit recovery.
(American Institutes for Research, 2016)

This is the source of the video example of how an online credit recovery program looks.
(Edgenuity, 2017)

This page provides data regarding the frequency of programs, including credit recovery, being offered by school districts across the country.
(National Center for Education Statistics, 2011)

This page discusses the accountability programs involved in the Every Student Succeeds Act.
(Every Student Succeeds Act, 2017)

This article was written by a journalist after taking some of the online credit recovery courses offered to high school students in Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, 2016)

This article discusses some of the issues with online credit recovery programs not being rigorous.
(Smiley, 2017)

This article discusses how widespread credit recovery is as well as issues of whether it helps students become proficient in a subject.
(Bloom, 2016)

For a related issue, see Katelyn Clements' article, Grade Retention Vs. Social Promotion.