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Successful credit recovery programs from four districts

Here’s how four districts have had success with credit recovery.

While the Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston, Texas, has a strong early intervention program that is successful in keeping more kids from failing classes, the district still uses credit recovery as an element in its overall student graduation plans.

Students who have failed a course may take credit recovery with Aventa’s online courses, or they may be required to retake a class in the traditional way. The choice is sometimes up to the student, but the teacher, the counselor, and the parents all have a voice in the decision. If a student simply missed too much of the course, he or she likely will be required to retake it in a traditional setting. But other students can benefit greatly from online credit recovery, says Sheri Alford, director of educational technology for Spring Branch ISD.

“We like it because it’s a continuous enrollment,” says Alford; students can begin taking the online course as soon as they’re in trouble.

The district gives each student in an online credit recovery course a liaison—a teacher who can help when that student hits a snag. “The liaison is also the person who says, ‘I notice you didn’t log in yesterday,’ or, ‘You were only online for so long, and you’re not progressing.’ So the liaison can provide one-to-one help,” Alford says.

The liaison also sets up tutorials. For example, if the liaison is an English teacher and the student is struggling with a certain portion of an online math course, the liaison can set up a tutorial with a math teacher.

Alford says Aventa is far superior to a prior credit recovery program the district was using. That program, from another vendor, was not as rigorous, and students had figured out how to manipulate it without actually learning anything.

The Tucson Unified School District in Arizona is another district that is offering online credit recovery to students. If a student is a junior or senior, has failed a class, and needs those credits to graduate, the student is eligible to take an online credit recovery course free of charge.

Stuart Baker, Tucson USD’s coordinator for online learning, likes the Aventa program because the focus is on the skills a student learns, not on the amount of time he or she spends on the class. Additionally, Baker says, the speed at which a student learns is entirely up to the student, not up to the online class.

“For a regular comprehensive high school trying to set up something based on how slow or fast kids learn, it would be a nightmare. Semesters would have to begin and end at all different times; it just can’t work,” Baker says. “But in an online situation, it’s much easier to handle” this kind of personalization.

Tucson USD requires students to log in for at least five hours per week, per class. Students have two months to get through a credit recovery class, though some get through the courses much faster.

Baker points out that the personnel costs don’t go down significantly with online courses, because you still need teachers, administrators, and counselors involved. But when you balance those costs against the cost of a senior taking up a seat in algebra that a freshman could take in the fall, then online credit recovery often becomes worth it.

“When you’re talking about credit recovery and today’s student, who wants information in a variety of different ways, the more flexible you can be, the better,” Baker says.

Baker says there has been a real revolution in how colleges are delivering classes, offering more flexible schedules with evening classes, online classes, and even weekend classes.

“High school hasn’t really caught up with that idea,” he says. “Part of that is, what do you do with a 14-year-old kid who doesn’t have to go to school all day? There remains the idea of schools being able to watch the kid. Still, we’re stuck with the ideal of how we’ve done schools for the last 100 years. We need to start redefining how we present information, how we can draw on a variety of sources.”

John Glenewinkel, superintendent of the East Valley School District in Spokane, Wash., seems to have embraced the idea of flexibility in moving more students toward graduation. He has put a number of programs into place to serve students whom he calls “truly displaced and nontraditional learners.”

For example, the district has recently begun working with the Hutterite community. The Hutterites are very self-sufficient and community-oriented, and they are committed to education, but their children become adults at about age 15, and they have not had much of a desire or a need for a high school education. The community has begun to recognize that their children need more educational opportunities—yet their culture does not support their children being integrated into high schools, which means that very few Hutterite children in the area ever earn a high school diploma.

Working with the community, the East Valley School District pays for a portion of the salary of a high school teacher for the Hutterite community (the Hutterites pay for the other part). The Hutterites do have a school building equipped with computers, and high school students can go to that building, where they can take online learning classes. “By using our shared teacher, online learning, and our assessments and curricula, we are basically operating a K12 school there. And students are actually graduating,” says Glenewinkel.

Glenewinkel admits there is still much to be done around the effort. “One of the things we really need to be able to do is increase the career and technical education programs, particularly around animal science and agriculture.  We’re striving to do that while at the same time working to deliver the computer-based instruction. So it’s a work in progress, but everyone appears to be very pleased.”

Another program from the East Valley School District is a blended learning program with the Squaxin Indian nation. “We have a teacher, and we’re working with students who have been displaced from school because their culture doesn’t support traditional high school,” Glenewinkel says.

The Squaxin have a long history of fishing and being connected to the land, so they need flexibility to engage in these activities. By giving them a chance to work out of the tribal center via distance learning, Glenewinkel has provided a program for students who might have started high school but found that the cultural differences were too vast to be overcome. “We monitor the program to make sure that the learning is at the right level, and we can modify the learning to make it culturally relevant,” he says.

Another program works during an unusual mid-winter break that comes in February. During the week off, students who are struggling in a class or who have failed a class can come to school for an intensive program to make up credits. The program is personalized for each student; a plan is put together, a teacher is made available, and the student can work online to accomplish what he or she needs to make up the credits.
They have a very specific learning plan,” Glenewinkel said of program participants. “We don’t want them to go through this week and not get it done. It’s the completion of the plan we’re aiming for, whether they finish it in the week, or complete most of it during the week and then finish through the following weeks.”

Glenewinkel also has implemented a system whereby the principal and counselors of each school sit down with a list of all students and look at where each student should be at benchmark moments. For example, he says, if a student needs 24 credits to graduate, then students should have 12 credits at the end of their sophomore year. If a student doesn’t have these 12 credits, the principal and counselors come up with any necessary interventions, either in class or online, to get that child back on track.

It’s too early to see the results of these programs at East Valley, which have been rolled out slowly over the last two years, just yet. But Glenewinkel believes he will see graduation rates improve this year. Beyond graduation rates, he believes the programs are working, because the district has seen significant increases in the number of students wishing to take AP classes. “We’re seeing this academic success carry over in some unexpected ways,” he says.

Glenewinkel stresses that the district is “very, very cognizant” of the need to make sure that what is provided to students is of high quality.

“We’re not interested in just creating a credit mill,” he says. “We could give a kid all the credits we wanted, but if [the student] didn’t meet assessment mandates, [he or she] wouldn’t graduate. We believe we’re offering a high-quality program, as well as individualized programs students can tailor to their needs.”

While East Valley is still waiting to see the results of its intervention programs, Chicago Public Schools has seen great success in helping students recover credits lost as a result of failing a class. Beginning with a small pilot program in 11 schools, the district offered the Aventa program to at-risk youth in 2008. By 2010, more than 3,500 students had enrolled in credit recovery courses. And in those courses, more than 80 percent of students passed.

This helped ensure graduation for more than 1,000 at-risk students in the spring of 2010, says Robin Gonzalez, manager of distance education for the district.


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