5 Ways to Improve Online Credit Recovery for Struggling Students

How districts design their online credit recovery systems can make a big difference in whether programs provide needed support for struggling students or just empty credit.

Nearly 7 out of 10 high schools allow students to retake failed courses or improve their grades by repeating content online. Although some studies have shown it can increase graduation rates, the model has been criticized for allowing students to disengage and leading to less long-term learning.

As high schools look for new ways to help students regain academic ground lost during pandemic-related school disruptions, a new policy report from the EDResearch for Recovery project suggests that administrators review the structure of their programs.

“What’s crazy is that before the pandemic, most credit recovery had shifted to online courses,” said Robert Balfanz, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center, which was not associated with the report but who studied credit recovery. Yet the number of high school students failing distance learning courses, mostly online, has skyrocketed over the past two years.

“Now we have a bunch of kids who have failed in a virtual environment and the schools are kind of telling them, well, the payback for that is to go take an online class,” Balfanz said. “But I understand that’s all [schools] have, right? It’s hard to create a whole new credit recovery strategy from scratch when you’re in a pandemic recovery year. »

Here are five ways administrators can improve their online credit recovery programs, according to Carolyn Heinrich, professor of public policy, education and economics at Vanderbilt University and author of the study:

1. Target students most likely to benefit

Online recovery programs allow students to work through the material at their own pace and at their own pace, which can be especially helpful for students who need flexible schedules, such as those who work or also care for family members outside of school. But studies show that those who struggle the most may find the classes the least helpful.

In a 2019 study, Heinrich and colleagues found that the most academically backward students and those with poor study and classroom management skills were more likely to be delayed than stimulated by credit recovery in line. In particular, researchers have found that students who read below grade level spend less time actively engaged in their online credit programs. These students were more likely to receive in-person credit recovery instead.

Upper grades and students with a strong sense of autonomy were more likely to improve their reading and math credits and GPAs using online recovery programs, Heinrich found.

2. Limit lessons to individual subjects

The most effective programs brought together small groups of students focused on a single subject to recover credits. This allowed for a mix of live and asynchronous teaching and more individual teacher support.

An eight-year longitudinal study found that many districts had limited funding for credit recovery, which often led to programs in which students in the same class studied a variety of different subjects at the same time. Students in these large “computer lab classes” tended to have in-person teachers acting more as technology support than content instructors. Students in multi-subject classes were less engaged and spent less time on tasks in their programs.

Districts must use 20% of their federal pandemic recovery funds to help students regain academic ground lost during the pandemic, which may include credit recovery. The report noted that using funds to divide larger groups into smaller, subject-specific groups can allow students to get more individualized help from their teachers and fellow students.

3. Actively monitor student progress

In a separate study of more than 200 district credit recovery programs, Nat Malkus and colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute found that most had not instituted safeguards to prevent students from using loopholes to complete a course without really mastering the content.

For example, nearly 70% of the districts surveyed had no minimum seat time requirements, and 60% allowed students to skip classes if they passed a pretest, which in many cases was less difficult than what that they would have passed in a standard version. of style. And more than 80% of districts failed to use their own district assessments to ensure students were actually learning the material covered in an online business program before awarding credit.

“To prevent credit collection from doing more harm than good, districts need to establish clear policies that focus on increasing rigor rather than just flexibility,” Malkus concluded.

4. Coordinate teacher planning between credit recovery and general education

Part of an ongoing research partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the American Institutes for Researchteachers indicated that they needed professional development both to use online tools and to meet the special educational needs of students in virtual environments.

Only 48% of teachers in the study told AIR researchers that commercial online recovery materials met the learning needs of all students, but teachers said they did not have the feeling of having enough training to adapt programs to special needs.

Teachers in credit recovery classes should have access to students’ Individual Education Plans, and administrators should allow them time to coordinate with special education and English-language teachers.

5. Choose suppliers with flexibility

Most districts outsource their programs to commercial credit collection programs. Heinrich and others said districts should ensure both that their vendors will provide the flexibility to tailor the program to district needs and that schools and students have the technological capability to use the programs, particular at home.
For example, Heinrich noted that many providers provide written translations but no language support for students learning English.


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David A. Albanese