Panel Paper: What Are the Effects of Online Credit Recovery on Academic Outcomes for at-Risk Students?

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jessica Heppen and Jordan Rickles, American Institutes for Research

Failing core academic courses in high school is a strong signal of trouble to come. Research has long documented a link between high school course performance and eventual graduation. The stakes for students who fail courses have become even higher as districts around the country adopt college- and career-ready standards and more rigorous graduation requirements. Students who fail courses need effective opportunities to recover content that they have not yet mastered and to recover credits required for graduation.

Many schools are now expanding online credit recovery programs to give students an opportunity to retake failed classes and get back on track. Proponents contend that online courses are a convenient, flexible, and effective way of broadening access to opportunities to retake failed courses. Yet evidence about the effects of online credit recovery is lacking.

This paper presents results from a randomized controlled trial designed to address this gap. The study took place in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and summer credit recovery for ninth graders who failed Algebra I – a key gateway course with which many students struggle. In a total of 17 CPS high schools, 1,224 students were randomly assigned to take Algebra I as either an online course (provided by Aventa Learning/K12) or a face-to-face (f2f) course (taught by a CPS teacher). Outcomes included math achievement, engagement, coursetaking patterns, school persistence, and, ultimately, graduation.

Results show some short-term benefits for f2f over online credit recovery. The online course was perceived by students as more difficult and less clear than the f2f algebra credit recovery course, and students in the f2f course had higher grades and scored significantly higher on an algebra posttest than students in the online course. While the majority of students (71%) in both the online and f2f conditions successfully recovered algebra credit, the recovery rates were statistically significantly higher in the f2f condition (76%) than in the online condition (66%).

However, there were differences on longer-term outcomes, including graduation. In both conditions, 47% of students in the study graduated within four years of entering high school.

Exploratory analyses suggested that in-person instructional support for students in the online course may have mitigated the negative effect on successful recovery rates, relative to the f2f classes. Students in online course sections whose in-person “mentor” spent at least 20 percent of the time in class answering math questions had, on average, comparable recovery rates (76%) to their peers in the f2f sections in the same schools. This finding led to the design of a current study of a blended credit recovery model, which has both online and in-person instructional support components. The current study is taking place in LA Unified Schools. The authors will describe the research questions and design of the current study, as it relates to the goal of building a body of evidence about different online credit recovery models, in various contexts. The authors will also discuss the implications of the findings from the completed Chicago study with the audience and the other panel participants.