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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

College and Career Readiness

July 2017

Question:

What does the research say about effective practices, programs, and materials for credit recovery and alternative learning centers?



Response:

Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on credit recovery programs and alternative learning centers. In particular, we focused on identifying resources on effective practices, program, and materials related to student outcomes (e.g., academic growth, attendance, and college/workforce readiness), and studies that may be aligned with ESSA evidence standards. For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Allensworth, E., Michelman, V., Nomi, T., & Heppen, J. (2014) . Effects of expanding summer credit recovery in algebra. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED562706

From the ERIC abstract: “In Chicago, over a quarter of students fail at least one semester of algebra in their ninth grade year, and only 13% of students who fail both semesters of Algebra I in ninth grade graduate in 4 years. Offering credit recovery options is one strategy to deal with high failure rates. The primary goal of credit recovery programs is to give students an opportunity to retake classes that they failed in an effort to get them back on track and keep them in school (Watson & Gemin, 2008). While it seems like a good idea, the pay-off may not actually be large for a number of reasons: few students who failed in the prior year may show up in the summer for credit recovery; few students may pass even if they do show up; and the gains of attending summer school for learning and for credit accumulation may be very small compared to students’ initial deficits in skills or the number of total credits they eventually need to recover. This study examines the benefits of offering expanded credit recovery options for ninth grade algebra, relative to business as usual (i.e., the summer programming schools would offer in the absence of efforts to expand credit recovery). The study incorporates all regular neighborhood high schools in Chicago (76) and all first-time ninth grade students who entered these schools (about 4,000 students in each cohort) between fall 2009 and fall 2011 who failed second semester algebra (Algebra IB).”

Beken, J. A., Williams, J., Combs, J. P., & Slate, J. R. (2009). At-risk students at traditional and academic alternative school settings: Differences in math and English performance indicators. Florida Journal of Educational Administration & Policy, 3 (1), 49–61. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ903005

From the ERIC abstract: “In this study, the researchers examined the extent to which at-risk students enrolled in traditional high schools differed in their state-mandated assessments in math and in English/Language Arts as compared to at-risk students enrolled in academic alternative education campuses (AECs). All data in this study were based on the accountability results reported by the Texas Education Agency for the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 academic school years. Statistically significant differences were present between these two groups of students’ math and English/Language Arts scores for the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 school years. Students in traditional high schools with large at-risk populations had higher math and English/Language Arts scores than students served in AECs for both academic years examined. Implications of these findings are discussed.”

Eno, J., & Heppen, J. (2014). Targeting summer credit recovery. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED562833

From the ERIC abstract: “Algebra is considered a key gatekeeper for higher-level mathematics course-taking in high school and for college enrollment (Adelman, 2006; Gamoran & Hannigan, 2000). Yet, algebra pass rates are consistently low in many places (Higgins, 2008; Ham & Walker, 1999; Helfand, 2006), including Chicago Public Schools (CPS). This is of particular concern because academic performance in core courses during the first year of high school is the strongest predictor of eventual graduation (Allensworth & Easton, 2005). Offering online credit recovery courses is one strategy to deal with high failure rates. However, no rigorous evidence currently exists about the efficacy of online credit recovery courses. Understanding patterns of treatment effects may provide clues to the relative strengths and weaknesses of online and standard face-to-face (f2f) learning. A related policy question is whether district and school administrators should target online learning to certain students. This paper investigates these questions by exploring heterogeneity in the treatment effects of online algebra credit recovery using Chicago Public School students who failed second semester Algebra I in the spring of freshman year, and attempted credit recovery as part of the study in summer 2011 or 2012.”

Heppen, J., & Sorensen, N. (2014). Study design and impact results. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED562834

From the ERIC abstract: “The consequences of failing core academic courses during the first year of high school are dire. More students fail courses in ninth grade than in any other grade, and a disproportionate number of these students subsequently drop out (Herlihy, 2007). As shown in Chicago and elsewhere, academic performance in core courses during the first year of high school is the strongest predictor of eventual graduation (Allensworth & Easton, 2005). Credit recovery online courses are a promising and popular strategy to address high failure rates. This paper describes the design and initial implementation of a randomized control trial that was designed to strengthen the evidence base for online credit recovery. Using a sample of Chicago Public School first–time freshman who failed second semester Algebra (Algebra IB), the study tests: (1) the impact of online Algebra I for credit recovery against the standard face-to-face (f2f) version of the course; and (2) the effects of offering expanded credit recovery options with online algebra, relative to business as usual (i.e., summer programming that schools would offer in the absence expanded credit recovery efforts).”

Heppen, J., Sorensen, N., Allensworth, E., Walters, K., Stachel, S., & Michelman, V. (2012). Efficacy of online Algebra I for credit recovery for at-risk ninth graders: Consistency of results from two cohorts. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED562703

From the ERIC abstract: “The consequences of failing core academic courses during the first year of high school are dire. In the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), only about one–fifth of off-track freshmen—students who fail more than one semester of a core academic course and/or fail to earn enough credits to be promoted to 10th grade—graduate high school, compared with over 80% of on-track freshmen (Allensworth & Easton, 2005, 2007). Failure of Algebra I is particularly problematic. In CPS, only 13% of students who fail both semesters of Algebra I in 9th grade graduate in 4 years, and the largest share of 9th grade algebra failures occur in the second semester of the course. Elucidating the ways that students can get back on track is of the utmost policy importance. Credit recovery is one strategy to deal with high failure rates. The primary goal of credit recovery programs is to give students an opportunity to retake classes that they failed in an effort to get them back on track and keep them in school (Watson & Gemin, 2008). As schools across the nation struggle to keep students on track and re-engage students who are off track, online learning has emerged as a promising and increasingly popular strategy for credit recovery. Despite the growing use of online courses for credit recovery, the evidence base is thin. This paper describes the design, implementation, and results of a randomized control trial that was designed to address this gap. The primary intent of the proposed paper is to share findings to date for the two cohorts of students who participated in two Algebra I credit recovery courses (one online and one face-to-face) as part of this trial—first time freshmen in 2010-11 at 15 CPS high schools and first-time freshmen at 13 CPS high schools in 2011-12.”

Hughes, J., Zhou, C., & Petscher, Y. (2015). Comparing success rates for general and credit recovery courses online and face to face: Results for Florida high school courses (REL 2015-095). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED559978

From the ERIC abstract: “This report describes the results of a REL Southeast study comparing student success in online credit recovery and general courses taken online compared to traditional face-to-face courses. Credit recovery occurs when a student fails a course and then retakes the same course to earn high school credit. This research question was motivated by the high use of online learning in the Southeast, particularly as a method to help students engage in credit recovery. The data for this study covered all high school courses taken between 2007/08 and 2010/11 in Florida (excluding Driver’s and Physical Education). The study compares the likelihood of a student earning a C or better in an online course as compared to a face-to-face course. Comparisons for both general and online courses include those courses taken for the first time and credit recovery courses. The results show that the likelihood of a student earning a grade of C or better was higher when a course was taken online than when taken face-to-face, both for general courses and credit recovery courses. Most subgroups of students also had higher likelihood of success in online courses compared to face-to-face courses, except that English language learners showed no difference in outcomes when taking credit recovery courses online. However, it is not possible to determine whether these consistent differences in course outcomes are attributable to greater student learning, other factors such as differences in student characteristics, or differences in grading standards.”

Karahan, E., & Roehrig, G. (2016). Use of web 2.0 technologies to enhance learning experiences in alternative school settings. International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology, 4 (4), 272-283. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1108380

From the ERIC abstract: “As the learning paradigms are shifting to include various forms of digital technologies such as synchronous, asynchronous, and interactive methods, social networking technologies have been introduced to the educational settings in order to increase the quality of learning environments. The literature suggests that effective application of these technologies in education can provide a means of addressing the lack of uptake and sharing of learning and teaching ideas and designs. This study investigated the effects of integrating social networking technologies on students’ interaction, motivation, and engagement in an alternative learning school environment. Twenty-two 10th to 12th graders in an alternative school were recruited from their environmental science class to participate in this study. An online learning environment was designed to assist in-class instruction to promote student learning and engagement around the topic of climate change. Students’ reflections that emerged from their interactions and posts on the social network indicated the relationship between the use of social networks and student motivation and engagement.”

Kraft, M. A., & Rogers, T. (2014). Teacher-to-parent communication: Experimental evidence from a low-cost communication policy . Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED563011

From the ERIC abstract: “A wide body of literature documents the important role that parents play in supporting children’s academic success in school (Houtenville & Conway, 2008; Barnard, 2004; Fan & Chen, 2001). Drawing on this literature, national taskforces and federal legislation consistently identify increased parental involvement as a central goal of educational reform initiatives (e.g. No Child Left Behind, Title I, Part A, Section 1118). Schools attempt to promote greater parental engagement though a variety of efforts centered on teacher-parent communication (Epstein, 2008). Cheung and Pomerantz (2012) found that children whose parents were more likely to be involved with their learning were more likely to be motivated to meet their parents’ academic expectations, and received higher grades. Recent experimental research has documented how two-way teacher-parent communication can lead to greater parental involvement, improved student engagement and academic achievement (Authors, 2013; Bergman, 2012). This study examines the effect of delivering to parents weekly messages written by teachers about each child’s performance in school, and the authors explore how these effects differ across different message types. This is accomplished by conducting a field experiment during a summer credit recovery program in a large urban school district. Researchers randomly assigned participating students and their parents to one of three experimental conditions. Some parents received information throughout the summer program about what their students were doing well and should continue doing; others received information about what their students needed to improve upon, while a third group received no information. The research sought to answer two questions: (1) What is the effect of teacher-to-parent communication on the probability a student earns course credit in a credit recovery program; and 2) Are positive or needs-improvement messages more effective at increasing a student’s likelihood of earning course credit? This research contributes to a growing body of evidence on the beneficial impact that teachers providing parents with individualized messages and information about their children’s schoolwork can have on student achievement and advancement in school. This study also points to the importance of further examining how teachers and schools can improve the content and quality of their communication with parents.”

Pareja, A. S., & Stachel, S. (2013). Who attends summer credit recovery classes, and who benefits from doing so? Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED564069

From the ERIC abstract: “This current paper uses data collected as part of an efficacy trial funded by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) National Center for Education Research (NCER) (See Symposium Justification and Paper #1 for a more complete description of the focus of the broader study). Since participation in the study was voluntary, students showing up for summer school likely differed from students who failed the second semester of algebra but who did not show up in many important ways. If the idea behind credit recovery is to get kids back on track (to recover), how likely is that given how far behind they are? This paper examines which students attend summer school, which students recover the credit during summer school, and how classroom contexts impact the likelihood that various types of students recover credits. Specifically, the current paper seeks to address the following questions: (1) What are the characteristics of students who show up for summer credit recovery, compared with (a) students who don’t show up but need to recover, and (b) students who succeeded in Algebra I in grade 9?; (2) Which types of students who show up for summer school are most likely to recover their credits and score well on the post-test in summer school? (a) Students that started far behind in math skills benefit less than students who were far behind? (b) Students who only needed one credit more successful than students who needed multiple?; and (3) How does students’ probability of passing summer school depend on the interaction of their individual characteristics and the characteristics of the classrooms they are in (size, teacher qualifications, peer composition [prior academic achievement of students in class])? (a) For example, do students who have failed more classes prior to summer school benefit more from smaller class sizes than their relatively more successful peers? Are students with high numbers of prior failures highly likely to not pass summer school regardless of class size? The author focuses on which students showed up to summer school and will continue to compare and contrast students who showed up versus those who did not in terms of future test scores, course-taking and likelihood of dropout. The current paper uses data from slightly different groups of students for different sets of analyses. For the first of analyses data from all students who attended the study schools and who were first-time ninth graders in fall of 2010 or fall of 2011 were examined to compare the background characteristics and previous academic achievement of three groups of students: (1) students who failed Algebra I and attended one of the study summer school classes; (2) students who failed Algebra I but did not attend one of the study summer school classes; and (3) students who passed Algebra I. The second set examined data from all Chicago Public School (CPS) students who were first-time ninth graders in fall of 2010 or fall of 2011 and who failed Algebra I during their ninth grade year to examine the extent to which students successfully recovered the credit during the summer as well as identify the characteristics of students who did so compared with those who did not recover the credit. The third set of analyses examined data from all students who attended the study schools and who were first time ninth graders in fall of 2010 or fall of 2011 and who failed Algebra I during their ninth grade year to examine how students’ probability of passing summer school depends on the interaction of their individual characteristics and the characteristics of the classrooms (size, teacher qualifications, peer composition [prior academic achievement of students in class]) they are in. Conclusions will be able to provide a detailed picture of who attends summer school algebra credit recovery classes, who passes them, and how classroom contexts impact the likelihood that various types of students recover credits.”

Rhea, A. (2010). An Evaluation of the Wake County Public School System alternative educational options, 2009-10. (E&R Report No. 10.15). Cary, NC: Evaluation & Research Department, Wake County Public School System. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED564388

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study is to evaluate the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) alternative educational options. The WCPSS options are similar to those in other North Carolina districts. WCPSS student outcomes based on state assessments and federal standards are also equivalent or higher than other districts, although the capacity for WCPSS students served at each alternative setting is generally lower. Students at WCPSS alternative schools receive benefits such as smaller classes and greater access to counseling services. Student data also indicate that these environments help build student resiliency. Base school personnel understand some aspects of the alternative schools, but greater transparency is needed, especially at the high school level. Additional alternative education sites are needed to better meet the needs of at-risk elementary students. Comprehensive services and settings for long-term suspended students and students with severe behavioral issues who are ineligible for special education services should also be created.”

Stallings, D. T., Weiss, S. P., Maser, R. H., Stanhope, D., Starcke, M., & Li, D. (2016). Academic outcomes for North Carolina Virtual Public School credit recovery students (REL 2017-177). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED569940

From the ERIC abstract: “Across the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast Region there is growing interest in strengthening the presence of online learning in all public schools to help equalize education opportunities for all students and prepare students for a digital future. For instance, the North Carolina General Assembly has required that the state transition to digital learning tools by 2017, and work is under way to meet that goal. This study was designed to expand stakeholders’ understanding of one pre-existing aspect of digital learning that helped inspire the state’s transition—the extent to which online learning is already providing digitally enhanced options for students at risk of dropping out. Both virtual schools and state education agencies are interested in learning more about the reach of credit recovery programs (which allow students to retake required courses to make up graduation credits for courses they failed) and how outcome data differ across credit recovery options. These questions also are important to district-level personnel, especially in North Carolina. Though North Carolina dropout rates have decreased and graduation rates have risen in recent years, considerable public pressure remains for school districts to continue to improve these rates, and interest in using online credit recovery to address the issue is growing. This study examined the North Carolina Virtual Public School’s (NCVPS) credit recovery program (which was added to NCVPS’s extensive list of high school course offerings in 2008) and other common credit recovery options available to students in the state (such as summer school and traditional school–year course repetition, as well as online credit recovery provided by third-party vendors). It also compared short- and longer-term academic outcome data across the credit recovery options. Finally, the study calculated correlations between the academic outcomes and characteristics of students enrolled in the various credit recovery options to lay the groundwork for future research on the efficacy of credit recovery programs. Key findings include: (1) NCVPS credit recovery students were less likely than other credit recovery students to be economically disadvantaged, and a greater proportion entered high school proficient in math and reading; (2) There was little difference in the short-term success rates (such as end-of-course exam scores) between NCVPS credit recovery students and other credit recovery students; (3) On measures of longer-term success (such as graduation rates), NCVPS credit recovery students were less likely than other credit recovery students to graduate, but those who did graduate were more likely to stay on track to graduate (by succeeding in subsequent related coursework) and to graduate on time (that is, within four years); and (4) Black NCVPS credit recovery students were less likely than students of other racial/ethnic groups to reach proficiency in the recovered course (as measured by test scores) but were more likely to succeed in subsequent coursework in the same subject area after completion of the credit recovery course.”

Stevens, D., & Frazelle, S. (2016). Online credit recovery: Enrollment and passing patterns in Montana Digital Academy courses (REL 2016-139). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED566910

From the ERIC abstract: “Most U.S. school districts (88 percent) offer credit recovery courses or programs for students. In rural states such as Montana, online credit recovery options are especially popular because they allow schools to serve students in remote areas throughout the year, across a range of subjects, and with few additional resources (Carver & Lewis, 2011; Oliver, Osborne, Patel, & Kleiman, 2009). Such programs offer students greater flexibility and choice, which results in more opportunities to make up classes and a greater likelihood that students will stay in school and stay on track to graduate (Oliver et al., 2009). Despite the growing popularity of online credit recovery courses, there is little research about which students take these courses or how well they perform. This report addresses this information gap by examining 2013/14 data from the Montana Digital Academy (MTDA), the only state-funded program offering online credit recovery courses in Montana. The report provides a descriptive analysis of course enrollment and passing rates. It also draws on interviews with eight district leaders and one MTDA representative to provide context for the analysis and to describe other credit recovery strategies in Montana. The report offers educators an early look at the potential of online credit recovery courses to help struggling students get back on track to graduation. It can also help state leaders compare the MTDA with other online programs and identify possible areas for investigation or improvement when designing credit recovery options. The report’s key findings are: (1) More male students than female students enrolled in MTDA online credit recovery courses, and students in grades 10 and 11 made up a larger proportion of MTDA student enrollments than those in grades 9 and 12; (2) Enrollments in MTDA online credit recovery courses were higher in English language arts than in any other subject; (3) The passing rate in MTDA online credit recovery courses was 57 percent of enrollments; (4) Passing rates in MTDA online credit recovery courses were lowest in math (49 percent) and English language arts (52 percent); and (5) Passing rates were lower for students who took one MTDA online credit recovery course per semester (40 percent) than for students who took multiple courses in a semester (nearly 80 percent).”

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2009, March). Middle College High School. (What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report). Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED504464

From the ERIC abstract: “‘Middle College High Schools’ are alternative high schools located on college campuses that aim to help at-risk students complete high school and encourage them to attend college. The four-year program offers a project-centered, interdisciplinary curriculum with an emphasis on team teaching, individualized attention, and the development of critical thinking skills. Students are also offered support services, including specialized counseling, peer support, and career experience opportunities. The What Works Clearing (WWC) reviewed 15 studies on ‘Middle College High School.’ One of these studies meets WWC evidence standards; the remaining 14 studies do not meet either WWC evidence standards or eligibility screens. Based on this one study, the WWC found the intervention to have no discernible effects on staying in school or completing school. The conclusions presented in this report may change as new research emerges.”

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2015, May). Credit recovery programs. (What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report). Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED556121

From the ERIC abstract: “ ‘Credit recovery programs’ allow high school students to recover course credit, through in-school, online, or mixed modes, for classes they previously failed. The WWC reviewed the research on these programs and their impacts on middle school, junior high school, or high school students at risk of dropping out or who have already dropped out. The review finds that none of the existing research meets WWC design standards. More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of ‘credit recovery programs’ for dropout prevention.”

Zhao, H., & McGaughey, T. A. (2013). Evaluating the Online Pathway to Graduation program . (Evaluation Brief). Montgomery, MD: Office of Shared Accountability, Montgomery County Public Schools. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED557729

From the ERIC abstract: “This brief describes an evaluation of the ‘Online Pathway to Graduation’ (OPTG) program in Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools (MCPS) during the 2012-2013 school year. The OPTG program provides students who participate in an alternative learning opportunity to earn course credits and graduate from high school. The purposes of the evaluation are: (1) to examine the staff and student experiences in the program; and (2) to assess whether the program helped student participants earn or recover credits necessary for high school graduation. The report provides major findings and recommendations.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

College & Career Readiness & Success Center – http://www.ccrscenter.org/

From the website: “The College and Career Readiness and Success Center (CCRS Center) is dedicated to ensuring all students graduate high school ready for college and career success. The mission of the CCRS Center is to serve Regional Comprehensive Centers in building the capacity of states to effectively implement initiatives for college and career readiness and success. Through technical assistance delivery and supporting resources, the CCRS Center provides customized support that facilitates the continuous design, implementation, and improvement of college and career readiness priorities.”

What Works Clearinghouse – https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/FWW/Results?filters=%2CDropout-Prevention Prevention

From the website: “The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question ‘What works in education?’ ”

Methods

Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Nontraditional education

  • Alternative schools

  • A Credit recovery

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.