[Credit Recovery] Six Best Practices in Designing Programs

Monday, November 30, 2015 -- Sarah Cornelius

Today, a high school diploma is more critical for success than ever before. With this being the case, credit recovery programs are growing increasingly ubiquitous to help as many students as possible reach this milestone. However, designing a program to meet the unique needs of your student population comes with a number of challenges. We’ve compiled these six best-practice tips to help you achieve success with your credit recovery program.

1. Think About the “Why”

When designing your credit recovery program, it’s important to have clear goals in mind. There won’t be a single approach that will be able to meet all the unique needs of all your at-risk students, so take the time to think about the challenges that are most pressing for your school or district. Do you need to raise graduation rates? Help more students graduate on time? Offer flexible learning options for students struggling with the traditional classroom environment? Define the overarching aim of your program, and build it around those goals.

2. Address Underlying Problems

For a majority of at-risk students, there are a number of complex reasons behind their academic struggles. Taking these varied and multifaceted issues into account is key to designing a credit recovery program that will be effective for your school and students. Issues of economic and racial inequality often come into play, as do instabilities at home and disciplinary and attendance issues. It’s critical that credit recovery programs provide support to address these problems. Effective strategies can include flexible learning options and dedicated staff to provide academic guidance, motivation, advocacy, and mentorship.

3. Consider a Competency-Based Approach

Traditional K–12 learning models are built around “seat time,” or the 120-hour Carnegie Unit of academic credit, but a growing number of students and educators are finding that this approach is not the most effective way to encourage and measure learning. A competency-based approach to credit recovery can help overcome this challenge by offering students the chance to receive intervention services for specific skills or competencies that they are struggling with before failing an entire course. Often referred to as “unit recovery,” this kind of approach can help at-risk students graduate on time by keeping them engaged with their learning while building confidence.

4. Leverage a Blended Model

More and more schools and districts around the country are turning to online learning programs for credit recovery. Blended learning models are gaining popularity as an option that gives students access to the benefits of both online and in-person learning. In a blended credit recovery model, students who struggle in a traditional classroom can benefit from the self-pacing, immediate feedback, varied media formats, and flexible access that online learning solutions offer. However, these models are also able to maintain regular, in-person contact with an instructor to address specific difficulties and provide additional structure and accountability. This report from Jobs for the Future outlines effective strategies and provides a guide for building a blended credit recovery program.

5. Ensure Academic Rigor

An ongoing concern regarding credit recovery is the maintaining of a level of academic rigor equal to that of standard programs. If this is not made a priority, students will pay the price later by being ill-prepared for the opportunities and challenges after high school. All content offered in your credit recovery programs, including online solutions, must provide standards-aligned material, multiple instructional methodologies, and opportunities for students to practice concepts and engage with instructors and peers in critical-thinking-based discussion. Credit recovery should not simply be a quick path to a high school diploma; it should be an alternative path for students to move on to postsecondary education and career pathways.

6. Make Data-Driven Decisions

Effective use of student data is an essential component of any successful credit recovery program. Consistent monitoring of student progress—which can be supported with online tools like Edmentum Sensei—helps you identify students in need of additional academic support or credit recovery assistance early on. For students in your credit recovery program, it’s important to leverage data to understand which skills, concepts, and approaches they are struggling or exceling with. This can help you drive future instruction in the most effective manner and help propel your students toward graduation and postsecondary success.

Looking for additional resources to design or optimize your credit recovery program? iNACOL recently released this report on Using Online Learning for Credit Recovery. Also, check out Edmentum’s Credit Recovery Program Planning Worksheet, and learn how our online credit recovery solutions helped the School District of Osceola County increase graduation rates by 10 percent

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