School & District Management Opinion

The NYC High School Progress Reports Meet Credit Recovery

By Eduwonkette — November 13, 2008 2 min read
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Yesterday, the NYC Department of Education released its high school progress reports - 83% of high schools received A or B grades. Like the K-8 reports, 60% of the grade is based on “student progress,” which in the case of high school includes credit accumulation.

We know that many students fall of the wagon, so to speak, early in high school and fail enough courses that it makes it hard for them to catch up. So tracking students’ credit accumulation closely - and intervening when students fall behind - makes a lot of sense.

But holding schools accountable for credit accumulation creates a number of perverse incentives, and readers have provided a number of examples of how this is unfolding in their schools. The central issue is how “credit recovery” is being used - and in some cases, abused. For the uninitiated, credit recovery involves “letting those who lack credits make them up by means other than retaking a class or attending traditional summer school.” (See this NYT article on credit recovery.)

Teachers have complained that they’ve been pressured to change grades (more than they have in the past) because of these credit accumulation measures. Other teachers have reported that students who fail a course in the first term are allowed to sign “contracts” that promise that their grade will be changed to a passing grade if they attend tutoring two hours a week, but tutoring attendance is never monitored. Still other teachers have reported that students who’ve failed their courses are given simple tasks - i.e. a packet of math problems - that students can complete to get credit.

Readers know well that I generally come down on the side of keeping kids in school (see this exchange about the dropout age, for example). But some of these wild year-to-year jumps in the fraction of students earning 10+ credits do make me wonder what’s happening with credit recovery on the ground. For example:

* At the Secondary School for Journalism, 6% of first year students earned 10+ credits last year; this year, 60% did.

* At the Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies, 11% of first year students earned 10+ credits last year; this year, 68% of students did.

* At Canarsie High School, 10% of first year students earned 10+ credits last year; this year, 41% did.

* At the Law, Government and Community Service High School, 17% of first year students earned 10+ credits last year; this year, 44% did.

* At the Cobble Hill School of American Studies, 29% of first year students earned 10+ credits last year, this year, 57% of students did.

It is, of course, possible that changes in the student population from year-to-year may explain some of these jumps, or that schools made substantial changes that led to real increases in course passing rates. It could also be the case that students are better off in a world where educators are paying close attention to credit accumulation, even if it does lead to some practices that many educators would frown upon. Alternatively, we could end up making schools look better than they really are, and students find themselves in a lurch when they come face-to-face with kids who actually did master these courses.

At the very least, let’s hope that reporters make use of the new data available and try to find out how these increases are being produced. Readers, where do you draw the line on credit recovery? Got insights on how credit recovery is being used in NYC schools or elsewhere? Leave a comment below.

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