EZ credit

Students who’ve cut class, skipped homework and failed tests can use “credit recovery” programs to pass, reports the New York Times. But the rules for what it takes to earn credits are loose. New York state may step in to regulate the system.

At William H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn, for instance, a nearly illiterate student racked up many of his credits through after-school remediation programs. He was promoted to 12th grade still unable to write full sentences or read a line of text, his teachers said.

At Mathematics, Science Research and Technology Magnet High School in Queens, several students were awarded credit last school year for clicking through questions on a computer screen until they got the right answer, teachers said.

Districts, judged in part by graduation rates, have a strong incentive to help failing students earn credits, stay in school and eventually collect a diploma. However, teachers complain students won’t work hard in class if they know it’s easy to make up the credit by filling out worksheets or doing a project.

I don’t see a way to keep the system honest except by giving an end-of-course test — written at the state level — to students who want credit for the course.

About Joanne


  1. Margo/Mom says:

    I think that this reveals the basic flaw in using Carnegie units, or seat time, as the basic regulation to determine credit. My district also uses a credit recovery system–and trumpet it’s ability to get kids to graduation. As I understand the current argument, being posed primarily by teachers, a teacher should determine in some way if the kid has actually “earned” the credit (in addition to the “seat time” requirement) generally by being a cooperative do bee. The problem is always posed in terms of lazy do-nothing students who get a “second chance” to slide by through jumping some minor hoops. If “credit recovery” involved extra jobs for teachers to hold the students in a special classroom for another year, this argument wouldn’t be appearing (sorry for my cynicism–but this one looks to be primarily about jobs and impinging on the teacher’s limited ability to rein in slackers by handing out failing grades). In my district, there was no problem with sending grade failures to summer school or night school (they weren’t allow to re-take the class the following year in their regular school). I would not say that the standards imposed in those cases were any higher than the computerized, self-paced program that has been imposed. But, more teachers were required.

    Personally, I am not opposed to a standard end of course exam at high school level. It is shocking how wide the variance is regarding what is taught, even when the content seems to be as well defined as something like Algebra I or Algebra II. Even a standard test written by teachers within the district would be an improvement. But, like standardized testing at the state level, that tends to blow some mythology out of the water, such as playing the game right results in adequate learning for every student in every class.

  2. At my school, students referred to credit recovery as “exercising your right click finger.” There will never be a completely honest system of credit recovery. Its simply a matter of “rational expectations,” where some kids will game the system and some adults will always CYA.

    But, if we got out of this blame and shame cycle of primitive accountability gotchas, we could make credit recovery and online tutorials into valuable tools. Under NCLB, credit recovery inevitably interacted with other flawed policies to make things worse. NCLB increased the pressure, for instance, to “work off absences” encouraging more students to fall hopelessly behind. And no Margo/mom, this is not a blame the student argument. Who can blame students for becoming increasingly demoralized by the narrowed curriculum and the excessive test prep?

    Let’s just say we took the same tutorials that are often used as a fig leaf for giving credit, and used them in a different setting. As it is now, some kids pass the tutorials encouraging others to try to slide by, usually unsuccessfully (which then prompts the system to give sillier opportunities liked doing worksheets that invite widespread copying). If the very same tutorial was offered by a community college to the same kids when they are mature enough to use them, the experience could be constructive. If the same tutorials were offered by a high school program where educators do not allow a free ride, and motivate students to get back in the game, then they could do enormous good.

    Margo/mom, we have to get away from this ideology that says that attending class is optional. Where else in life can people show up when they want and do their jobs when they feel like it? When students facing real problems can’t make it to class regularly in a conventional schedule, then we need alternative schedules. But, that means more alternative classes and programs.

  3. Margo/Mom says:


    I agree that we have to dump the attendance optional attitude. I have been fighting it in my son’s schools forever. At the elementary level it was about putting kids out of the classroom in various ways. At middle school it was about ignoring the kids who wandered the halls (in addition to finding ways to put kids out of the classroom or school in various ways). But, if that were the sole element that contributed to class/grade/school failure, our job would be simplified.

    I agree also that there is tremendous potential for online “tutorials” or other teaching opportunities. Christensen makes the case that disruptive innovation begins by developing inferior new products for unserved populations. This is an excellent descriptor of what is currently happening. While teachers scoff at what is really a point and click multiple choice environment that serves only as a better than nothing for a lot of kids (including my son), developers are gaining a foothold and building a market for more sophisticated offerings that may some day enable classroom teachers to better meet the needs of many more students.

    But, please don’t hand out the helpless teachers forced to narrow the curriculum and provide nothing but test prep drivel argument. As with everything poorly done in education, this is something that hits the neediest students on the bottom rungs, and allows the upper echelons to do very well without. Kids on the bottom were getting less before NCLB, and with concerted effort they continue to get less following NCLB. What increases measureable learning is not finding slicker ways to get around the testing without actually learning anything. It requires high quality, comprehensive curricula and teaching, along with rigor and depth. Oh, and a commitment to keeping kids in the classroom.

  4. Robert Wright says:

    From what I gather, students in San Jose who take a “Recovery” class can make up an entire semester in English with a little seat time, about 30 minutes of reading, and about 15 minutes of ungraded writing along the line of:

    “I thought the play Hamlet was really stupid because it sucked and it made no sense because it was so boring so that’s my opinion.”

    Seat time might mean sitting wherever you want, talking to friends or maybe listening to your iPod. Listening to the teacher is optional.

  5. I hate the credit recovery program because it forces the teacher to create a packet of work (with no requirement that it be done under supervision, so they can get assistance from a parent or friend), then collects it and awards credit.

    I don’t see why a student’s failure to do what they were supposed to do in class during the year should cause me to waste time putting together two weeks of work, without pay.

    Who are we punishing?

  6. I don’t know how “graduation rates” are calculated in other states, but in NYS, they take the number of entering freshmen and compare it to the number of graduating seniors 4 years later. I kid you not. No adjustments for students entering or leaving the district. And as Joanne noted, districts are rated on this statistic.

  7. Margo/Mom says:

    Robert–at least in my district, Credit Recovery is only an option for students who have already failed the class–this is how the district meets the “seat time” requirement. Since this is the only legal requirement made of the district, they are free to construct whatever minimal hoops they see fit once the student has passed through a year in a classroom.

    But, Linda, while I do not doubt that there are students who don’t do what they are supposed to do in a classroom, neither do I think that failure is as simple as that. Sending home packets is merely a charade (and an unpaid one at that). As a parent who has slogged through the process of trying to bring a kid who had gotten weeks and months off track before anyone thought that I should be informed (and thought that the solution at that point was simply to allow her to fail), I personally would be in favor of both students and teachers knowing that they are to be together until learning is accomplished, or proficiency reached, or, essentially, the class is passed. At the very least the school should be involved in ownership of the problem of students not completing work or learning. For too long we have simply allowed those students to fall away before completion. The fact that graduation tests have identified an additional cadre of students who show up regularly and perform well enough to pass the class, but cannot pass the test (sometimes over and over again) should be spurring a somewhat more honest effort. Yes, the “recovery” means that perhaps they will graduate on time (or not–depending on what exams they can/cannot pass)–and the school looks better. Not a very mature response, to my mind.

  8. I think an EOC exam is a reasonable way to keep the system honest, as well, but we also have to be honest about how many students can be expected to pass. I don’t want to burst anybody’s NCLB bubble, but it is not 100%. There needs to be a reasonable standard for how many can pass. I’m not sure how to determine this figure, but poking around for statistics, I found a report from ETS that puts the white graduate rate in the 80’s, the black in the 60’s, and the hispanic in the 50’s from 1970 – 2000. Black and white graduation rates seem to have peaked in 1980, while native born hispanic rates have been rising very steadily (immigrant rates are tanking).

    It seems to me, a graduation rate requirement that is sensitive to the population in a building would be practical, if politically untenable. If I have a primarily white population, it seems to me reasonable to set a goal of 90%. If I have a primarily immigrant hispanic population, that goal is idiotic (for the immediate future — not the long-term), but a met goal of 70% would be a huge leap forward. If you set reasonable, attainable goals, the pressure for widespread cheating is reduced and you have a better chance of getting an honest effort. That’s just human nature. If you set an impossible goal, and there is nothing to lose, your chances of cheating skyrocket.

    At this point under NCLB, the goal has become impossible to attain, so we are witnessing the states squirming and wiggling and trying to game the system – there’s nothing to lose from the pov of the system because they’ve been set up in a no-win. I’m not sure the system can ever be fully honest, but you can manipulate it to encourage that response (in a perfect world).

    FWIW, I in no way am saying it is OK to write off 10% or 30% of our students. You try like heck with ALL of them, but people do have free will.

  9. Margo/Mom says:

    LS–you surprise me. Some might point out to you that differentiating expectations based on race comes uncomfortably close to, well, racism. At the end of the day, an end of course exam should be measuring knowledge of the content that is intended to be taught. You are right, an agreement from the outset to write off a percentage of students who it is assumed will not make it to graduation ought to make us uncomfortable. But, to scale that assumption based on the race (or gender, or income level, or percentage of students with disabilities) is to take some great leaps backwards in our thinking. Given the measureable disparities between resources available to schools (freqently correlated with those things), would you then advocate for the continuation of disparity (and our earlier conversations have revealed that there is much to envy in th district in which you teach) that might possibly have a role in setting up those observable differences to begin with? After all, a school with a majority black population only has to graduate 70% of its kids, while your school has to graduate 90% to be considered acceptable.

  10. Robert Wright says:

    Districts that point with pride to high graduation numbers are like students who feel good about having hundreds and hundreds of friends on MySpace.

  11. Margo:
    I’m a great fan of looking at what I have and figuring out how to move forward. Simply wishing things were different isn’t productive.

    I don’t don’t advocate disparities. I advocate a realistic plan for getting rid of them. If a school is currently graduating 65% of its enrollees, then telling it to graduate 100% next year is absurd. For my district, which has a 97+% rate, giving us a goal of 80% is also obviously absurd.

    But, if you look at the 65% school, and figure out how to get them to 75% in 5 years, then you can move them to 85%, etc. You can figure out the issue with 10% of your population, then isolate the next 10%, etc. But figuring it all out at once is not really doable for most.

    It doesn’t matter what demographic you break it down by. It all comes down to race and SES in the end anyway. Dress it up all you like.

    And nobody (even my district) should be graduating 100% with a regular diploma. Some kids are going to fail those EOC exams no matter what or else they’re not much of an exam. That kid who shows up 1/3rd of the time, and even then is mostly high, should not be passing an EOC or graduating.