Online credit recovery creates diploma mills
Online “credit-recovery” programs are raising high school graduation rates, writes Zoë Kirsch as part of a Slate series called The Big Shortcut. At many schools, credit recovery also is lowering standards.
Credit recovery lets students “retake — and sometimes retake and retake — core subjects that they failed the first time around,” Kirsch writes. The quality of the online programs varies significantly.
Almost 90 percent of school districts use some form of credit recovery, according to a 2011 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (the center doesn’t distinguish between online and other forms). And data cited by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a trade group, shows that at least 75 percent of districts use some form of online learning.
In 2010, the graduation rate had fallen to 43 percent in Gadsden County School District on the Florida Panhandle. Superintendent Reginald James raised it to 55 percent by talking to parents, reviewing student performance with counselors and investing in after-school tutoring.
Then he tried online credit recovery, which was cheaper and easier. The graduation rate reached 68.4 percent by 2016. Ninety percent of students take at least one online credit-recovery course; the average student takes two or three.
Kirsch visited West Gadsen High’s virtual learning lab, where a senior named Justin was retaking Algebra 1, a course he’d failed as a freshman.
(Justin) leaned into the glow of his computer monitor, trying to grasp systems of linear inequalities. To his left, classmates streamed a Knicks game on YouTube while swapping pieces of candy. That’s definitely against the rules, but nobody reprimanded them. . . . An on-screen prompt asked Justin to determine the relationship between a point and two inequalities. He stared at it for half of a minute before dragging his cursor over the prompt and dropping it into Google. Within seconds, he found the solution there. Another swift cut and paste, and Justin answered the question correctly. “I want to go ahead and get done with this,” he said, as the students next to him watched a power forward sink a swisher, and one of them shuffled a deck of playing cards. “If I have to cheat, I will.”
Taking a class with no interaction is boring, concludes Stephen Smiley, who’d tried Edgenuity math and English courses.
For schools that eliminate or reduce the “pretest” option, provide extensive support to students (and extra assignments when necessary), and crack down aggressively on cheating, virtual credit recovery can provide a meaningful alternative, Smiley writes. “For those that ‘plug and play,’ as one administrator put it (plugging kids in front of a computer, hitting play on a course, and leaving them to their own devices), online credit recovery can quickly become a sham.”
It’s easy to cheat your way to a passing grade, online credit-recovery students tell the San Diego Tribune.