Panel Paper: An Evaluation of Credit Recovery As an Intervention for Students Who Fail Courses

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Wilson A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Samantha L Viano, George Mason University

In the 2010-11 school year, the national high school graduation rate reached a record high, continuing to growth each year since. Graduation rates are increasing at a faster pace for black, Hispanic, and low income students than the graduation rate of white and higher income students, closing the gap in graduation rates substantially in the last decade. While the evidence clearly shows the graduation rate is increasing overall and by student subgroup, it is unclear why the graduation rate is increasing with no corresponding trend in achievement or other outcomes that are associated with high school graduation.

While students do not graduate from high school for many reasons, credit accumulation is often one of the only official barriers to graduation. Credit recovery is a tool for students to increase credit accumulation that has greatly increased in popularity over the last decade. Credit recovery refers to the opportunity for a student who has previously failed a course to retake it online. Many have hypothesized that credit recovery has led to a higher graduation rate at the cost of the rigor that comes from traditional courses, as most notoriously exemplified by the recent scandal in the public schools in Washington, D.C. where many schools are said to be using credit recovery to help unqualified students graduate on time. In this study, I explore the effectiveness of credit recovery in helping at-risk high school students graduate from high school or prevent them from dropping out of high school.

The data for this study include all students in North Carolina Public Schools who were first-time ninth graders in either the 2012-13 or 2013-14 school years who failed at least one core, required course while in high school. This sample allows me to longitudinally track students up to five years after they enter high school. Since credit recovery is an intervention to address course failure, the treatment group is defined as students who enroll in credit recovery and the comparison are students who fail courses but repeat courses traditionally.

This study uses cohort-by-school fixed effects with within school-cohort coarsened exact matching and Mahalanobis distance matching to attempt to estimate the causal effect of credit recovery on the outcomes. Findings indicate credit recovery students are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to drop out than students who repeat courses traditionally. Credit recovery is a particularly effective strategy to prevent dropping out for black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students and for increasing the likelihood of graduating from high school for economically disadvantaged students. A series of robustness checks confirms these findings.