Credit-Recovery Program Helps At-Risk Students Meet Promotional Requirements
Castle Park Middle School, located in Chula Vista, Calif., just south of San Diego and a few miles north of the Mexican border, has 1,550 students in grades seven and eight. The school is located in a predominately working-class neighborhood, and 83% of our students are of Hispanic origin. While our attendance rate is excellent at about 98%, we still struggle with academic achievement. Our district, the Sweetwater Union High School District, recently installed promotional requirements mandating that each student must pass all four semesters of English and math during his or her middle school years in order to participate in promotional exercises, and later be able to take electives rather than extra English and/or math classes at the high school level.
Last year we realized that too many students were failing English and math classes, making them ineligible to officially be promoted. We had tried after-school credit-recovery programs in the past, but they were unpopular and it was hard to get students to attend the required number of hours. Being a schoolwide Title I school, we have substantial federal funds to provide supplemental programs for struggling students. My goal was to incorporate appropriate supplemental materials that would help promote all students to high school under our new requirements.
In anticipation of the need for an effective credit-recovery program that would increase the number of students being promoted from Castle Park in good standing, our principal and our math resource professional suggested that we look at a computerized program that was being used in learning centers at Castle Park High School. The program being used was from PLATO Learning and seemed to be an attractive, student-friendly way of getting students at any level to assess their core-area skills and focus learning in their areas of greatest need.
We spent some time with a PLATO Learning representative who was helpful in suggesting ways we could use the program for our credit-recovery needs. The PLATO program also paid rigorous attention to presenting the California state standards, and offered accountability tools that allowed our teachers to both pretest and posttest to identify individual student needs. As part of getting up and running with the program, the PLATO Professional Services team trained our credit-recovery teachers and installed the hardware and software.
Students identified as "at risk" attend credit-recovery classes after school and on weekends until they successfully complete the number of hours (60) to make up the failed English or math class. In the lab where PLATO K-12 Learning Technologies and PLATO Pathways Instructional Management System have been installed, students begin the credit-recovery course with a pre-assessment to identify their skill levels in the target areas. Students are listed as exempt in the areas they have already mastered, with further instruction and work assigned where the student is experiencing difficulty. Credit-recovery students spend about half the number of required hours (30 in most cases) at the computer engaged with the PLATO curriculum. They like the program because it is self-paced, individualized and computer-based. In the other 30 hours allotted, teachers armed with pre-assessment information offer effective individual instruction to students.
E-Learning to the Rescue
Teachers delivering the credit-recovery program spend longer hours at school during the work week and on many Saturdays, with additional pay available through our extra-duty pay program. I, along with our administrators and math resources staff, constantly monitor progress reports and teacher recommendations to identify students who will soon be at risk and convince them and their parents that credit recovery is an important option for them.
Although we are only in the initial phases of credit-recovery implementation, I believe I have seen a positive change in student attitudes. They now know that failure has consequences which could keep them from being promoted officially. And students realize that they will have to commit much of their time if they want to avoid that possibility.
Because of the e-learning aspect of our credit-recovery program, it also seems that students have changed their attitudes toward credit recovery. They realize that credit recovery is not all worksheets, repetition and drudgery; it also means relearning the standards in engaging and interesting formats with lots of visuals and graphics to help students learn and apply mathematical patterns.
Proof of e-learning's success as part of credit recovery is in the high number of students within our school who stay with the program until the end and gain credits. In our first round of credit-recovery classes incorporating e-learning, over 80% of students regained credits so that they were prepared to take their English and math tests, as well as ready to be promoted.
— John Washburn, Categorical Coordinator, Castle Park Middle School
This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.