Credit Recovery Software: the New Summer School
Districts are using online programs to get at-risk students back on track to graduation.
DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS Online High School
numbers 150 full-time students who, for a variety of reasons,
find the traditional classroom-bound education doesn't meet
all their needs. Some of them use the online option as a
means of learning at their own pace, or getting an education
while carrying a job. Some just prefer the approach to the
standard classroom structure. In addition to the full-time
students, the school's enrollment includes many kids who
have had academic setbacks and are using the virtual environment
as a way to catch up.
"We have a number of students who have failed a class and
need to get back on track," says Mike Clem, lead teacher,
adviser, and social studies instructor for DPS Online. The
online school offers them that chance through its course-credit
recovery program, using software from Aventa Learning that supplies users with a catalog
of classes, from core subjects to electives and advanced
placement. The technology allows students to retake courses
they failed previously while staying active in their current
classes, helping them stay on track academically. The
coursework can be done on a home computer or on one stationed
in a school lab. Clem says that DPS Online offers its
credit recovery program to any interested school in
the district. "Usually it's during the second semester, when
students are more serious about graduating and school
counselors are running out of other options, that we see a
significant increase in student enrollments," he says.
The push for a high graduation rate-- always a symbol of
academic excellence but now carrying even greater value as
a measure of accountability under the No Child Left Behind
Act-- has districts looking for any way to help turn around or
even bring back students whose poor academic performance
is driving them-- or already has driven them-- to drop out of
school. Denver Public Schools is one of many districts that
are using online learning as an alternative approach to the
conventional course recovery system: summer school. After
all, a student who didn't pass a class during the school year
is no more likely to pass it in the summer, working essentially
in the same learning environment.
Online learning's use of video and the internet as means
of delivering academic content, says Carol Downing, credit
retrieval specialist at the Volusia County School District in
Florida, is key to getting more students to comprehend
subject matter they didn't grasp the first time around.
Downing says that providing the content via digital media
enables students to pace themselves and "become masters
of their own success....[It] empowers them to learn, which
some students truly didn't think they could do before. The idea
of putting in the work and passing is not a causal relationship
with them." Those attitudes began to change, Downing adds,
through the virtual course-taking. Students caught up in their
classes and grew anxious to move forward. "They very quickly
started nipping at our heels," she says.
Volusia County offers more than 30 credit retrieval
programs, from its regular high schools to "storefront" high
schools aimed at part-time learners, such as teen parents
or working students, and programs in the county juvenile
detention centers. The district uses a system from
Apex Learning; coursework can becompleted entirely through the software, or the technology
can be used as a supplement to textbook teaching. But
regardless, the course content doesn't change no matter
the location of the user's computer, which helps ease the
transition to one learning environment from another.
"The beauty of the system is that any course not finished
in the juvenile detention program, for example, can be finished
at the high school with the same system," Downing
says. "It's welcoming to the student."
The storefront schools offer the same curriculum as the
traditional high schools, but without the time
constraints. "Students attend school for four
hours a day, taking courses with the Apex
Learning system, and then they go to work,"
Downing says. "Graduation rates are very high
with the storefronts."
"When a student is told so many times he's a failure, he
starts believing it. It takes a lot of intervention to see the
success, but then you see a lot spill over into that student's life."
Offering credit recovery gives students a
fighting chance when circumstances have
gotten in the way of attaining a traditional
high school education along the traditional
timeline. "When a student is told so many
times he's a failure, he starts believing it,"
Downing says. "It takes a lot of intervention
to see the success, but then you see a lot
spill over into that student's life. With this,
you get the unique opportunity to take students
from wherever they are and get them
to where they need to be."
Downing has seen her share of success
stories emerge from the options presented
by storefront high schools and online credit
recovery systems, including one female student
who had dropped out of school and had
two children, then later came back and earned
her diploma-- and went on to become a
"We're not just addressing academic successes,
but also personal successes," she
says. "For the first time, these students don't
feel like life has been happening to them--
they're in control."
At Texas' McKinney Independent School
District, administrators know the district's
course recovery program may find many users
as a result of new state academic requirements.
"Beginning this school year, Texas is
requiring that students take four years of
math and science to graduate," says Joe
Miniscalco, McKinney's senior director of elementary
education. "We know that freshmen
struggle, and if they fail a course, they've got
problems graduating in four years. We needed
to get creative about getting kids graduated
and not just recovering credit."
The course-credit recovery system the district employs--
also from Apex-- is the linchpin of its two programs, Grow and
Go, aimed at freshmen and sophomores who are in need of
assistance, and Grow and Graduate, aimed at at-risk juniors
and seniors who can't attend school full time because of work
or family commitments, or demonstrate an inability to thrive in
a regular high school setting. The schooling is conducted at
McKinney Learning Center, a high school for at-risk students.
Students are able to retake whatever class they need to make
up while keeping on pace with the rest of their course load.
"We get you back on track; we grow you back into a normal
high school at the credit-appropriate status," Miniscalco says.
"We make the kids retake the entire course, plus work on
their regular courses so they don't fall behind. Traditional high
schools are bound by time, but at McKinney, depending on
how fast they progress with Apex, we have kids recovering
their freshman credit and continuing with their 10th-grade
credit in the same year." Once students earn back those lost
course credits, they return to their regular high school.
Because most of these online credit recovery systems are
relatively new-- Denver, Volusia, and McKinney all have had
theirs in operation for three years or less-- there are no hard
numbers available to prove a direct correlation between the
systems and an increase in graduation rates. However, Volusia
had an 82.6 percent graduation rate for the 2006-2007
school year, higher than the state of Florida's 72.4 percent,
and the third-highest graduation rate statewide. And Miniscalco
says in the 2007-2008 school year, at least 75 percent of
the students at McKinney Learning Center made up their credit
deficit and put themselves back on the road to graduation.
As successful as credit recovery systems can be for some
students, Downing believes the online option should
complement, not replace, classroom learning. "I am a big fan
of public education, and I think that a lot of what goes on in
the traditional classroom is excellent," she says. "[Computer]
labs in public high schools are an excellent intervention, one
more tool to help struggling students. But I don't think they
should take the place of regular high schools."
Still, there's no disputing the notion that such systems
are reaching students who otherwise might be lost. "When
the students see progress and get regular reinforcement
and plenty of encouragement," Miniscalco says, "both the
teacher and student feel pretty good about what they're
Charlene O'Hanlon is a freelance
writer based in New
This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.