This year my middle school experimented with a summer credit-recovery program. Kids with failing grades attended two weeks of mandatory summer school to complete a packet of work for each class.
I learned one thing from this program: I don’t believe in credit recovery.
These programs target three types of students: the ones who don’t do their work, the ones who don’t understand the material, and the ones who don’t do their work or understand the material. Let’s look at each of those groups.
The kids who didn’t do their work during the year may or may not actually do the packet of work required for the credit recovery program.
If they don’t, then it’s been a waste of time and resources to have them there. If they do, we’ve just sent them the message that they can slack off all year, not complete any work, then do a handful of worksheets and move on to the next grade. These are smart kids; I expect next year they’ll go to their teachers and ask for the credit-recovery packet at the beginning of the semester so they don’t have to do the entire year’s worth of material.
Then there are the kids who just don’t get it.
They have trouble learning in the ways that we teach, or they lack the background knowledge they need to be successful. Shockingly, a packet of worksheets did very little to help these kids. Even the adaptive online programs can only do so much. They can watch the same video about finding the greatest common factor until their eyeballs fall out of their heads, but they really need someone to explain it to them one-on-one. By offering “credit recovery” instead of innovative or intensive remedial programs in the summer, we’ve given them a bunch of busy work they’re incapable of completing.
And, finally, there are the kids who are both lacking in academic foundational skills and don’t have the drive to do the work.
Worksheets will not solve those problems, even if the kids miraculously decide to attempt them. Why not put those kids in a mentoring or volunteer program? Our counselor could have done an intervention program with a small group. With a different strategy, maybe we could have helped a few of those kids make better decisions. As it was, we reinforced their belief that school is fundamentally pointless.
Not to mention the fact that there’s a basic disrespect in asking a teacher to condense their curriculum into two weeks’ worth of independent work. If I’m just a worksheet factory, why are you paying me? And if the computer program can cover my curriculum in two weeks, why do I have to be at work 190 days a year? It sends the message that the point of school is to do the work (however meaningless), turn it in, and get a good enough grade to squeak by. I’d like to think my class is more than that.
So what alternatives do we have to credit recovery?
Luckily, my administration agrees that credit recovery was a bit of a disaster. Next year, we’ll target our possible-retention kids with mandatory after-school programming earlier in the year, and we’ll differentiate between those who don’t do the work and those who can’t. We’ll still have mandatory summer school. Now, though, it will include both high-interest, small-group remedial classes and innovative, project-based classes for students who don’t need remediation. Summer school will be about helping the kids who need help, not punishing kids for not doing their work.
We’ll still have all the problems you’d find at any school, such as figuring out how to help a student who’s failing everything, but is already two years older than their classmates. Or the kid who desperately needs special services but failed to qualify for an IEP. Changing our summer programming won’t solve these issues, but at least I can spend my time trying to figure out a solution instead of grading worksheets.
We’d love to hear—what are your thoughts on credit recovery? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.