Credit Recovery is a Good Idea

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the idea and implementation of Credit Recovery in Ontario high schools. Opponents I have spoken with usually say that CR:

  • gives credits to students who haven’t earned them
  • allows students to have poor work habits/work ethic/organization/etc. but still succeed (i.e. if they don’t fail they’ll never learn resilience)
  • take jobs from teachers by preventing students from repeating courses

There may be other concerns as well, but these are the big three. I don’t think the last one merits much discussion, since it presumes that teacher jobs are more important that student success, which I feel is an unethical perspective. The other two are worth looking at.

How Credit Recovery is supposed to work

Here’s the Credit Recovery process from a student’s perspective:

  1. Fail a course
  2. Repeat parts of the course

Here’s the Credit Recovery process from the school’s perspective after the student fails the first course attempt:

  1. Identify the student’s level of success on each overall expectation
  2. Create/select a custom set of lessons and activities for the student based on their success in the first course attempt
  3. Guide the student through re-learning key concepts from the failed course
  4. Re-evaluate the student’s new work, including a new final summative task/exam (30%)
  5. Base the student’s new grade on their new performance, with the 70% term work possibly including information from the first course attempt

Credit Validity

I agree that this is a concern, for a couple of reasons. First of all, many schools will create a “Credit Recovery Package” for a course, but not for a student. For example, there will be an “AVI1O Credit Recovery Package” which will include 10 lessons about grade 9 visual arts, 4 assignments and a short exam/culminating task. The school will “administer” the package to every student who needs to recover AVI1O; if they pass each assignment and the exam, they get 50% in the course.

This is not okay for two reasons:

  1. The course package is not customized to the students’ needs. If a student performed well on half of the expectations but very poorly on the other half, what guarantee is there that the package is not mostly testing the same items they were originally successful on?
  2. The student gets a maximum grade of 50% (this isn’t part of Credit Recovery, and not necessarily part of this scenario, but it’s a common practice).
A pre-made, standard Credit Recovery "Package" may not be what the student really needs to learn/demonstrate.

A pre-made, standard Credit Recovery “Package” may not be what the student really needs to learn/demonstrate.

Aren’t we teaching them to not work hard?

I understand this argument too. After all, if students never fail, never have to persevere, are we preparing them for “the real world”?

Let me give a few scenarios, and think about whether you believe the student should be able to recover the credit involved.

Scenario 1

A student is taking a full course load, including three grade 12 Science courses. The student is working hard throughout the semester. About two-thirds of the way through the semester, he sits at 70% in Grade 12 Biology. Then he starts to have some personal issues, including a difficult struggle with depression. He stops handing in assignments, disengages from the lessons in class, and enters into a spiral of failure. He fails the exam miserably, and the teacher assigns a final grade of 42%; the student basically flunked the whole last strand of the course.

Scenario 2

A student is taking a full course load, including three grade 12 Science courses. The student is working hard throughout the semester. About two-thirds of the way through the semester, she sits at 70% in Grade 12 Biology. Then she starts to spend a little too much time partying, and not enough time on homework. She stops handing in assignments, is often absent, and is disruptive enough to be sent to the office and suspended. She shows up to the exam but barely writes anything on it. The teacher assigns a final grade of 42%; the student basically flunked the whole last strand of the course.

Scenario 3

A student is taking Grade 12 Biology. He works hard, but consistently performs below Level 1 throughout the semester and achieves 42% in the course.

Who should be eligible for Credit Recovery?

These three scenarios are different, but they have some similarities. First, they’re all in the same class. Second, they all achieve 42% overall. Should they all (or any of them) be eligible to recover their credit?

Scenario 1 and 2

These are the same for me. The reason that the student struggled and was unsuccessful is not important to me. If they are both willing to learn the content, to demonstrate their understanding, and to recover their credits, great. Why would we insist that the students work through the first two-thirds of the course again when they have already demonstrated their understanding?

Create a custom package of material for each student. Base it on the expectations they did not successfully demonstrate and the ones they wish to improve upon. This will also allow them to improve their performance on overall expectations that the students didn’t fail but which they have the ability to demonstrate a better performance on given an opportunity (i.e. fix the downward spiral, not just the part that was below 50%).

Wait, what about teaching them a lesson? No thanks. I can think of better ways to teach a student to be more responsible than making them “suffer” through 13 unnecessary weeks of a course they already know. For example, make them fix their mistakes by redoing the parts they did poorly.

Scenario 3

This student should not recover the credit. He’s that nice kid, the one who always puts in the effort, but he failed consistently. The only way to recover the course would be to demonstrate an improved understanding of all of the overall expectations. That’s called repeating a course.

Is this a good idea?

Let’s say you’re learning to make wooden cupboard doors. You study under a master carpenter for 6 weeks, learning to select the wood, prepare it, coax it into the shape you want. When you finally produce a finished door for your teacher, he says that you need to improve your finishing technique. So, naturally, he wants you to take 6 more weeks to relearn all of the components of door construction that you have already mastered, right?

No. He’d work with you on your finish, helping you to improve by providing timely, relevant feedback. When you produce another door that is perfect in his eyes, you start working on the next type of project (table legs, in this case).

Not the best idea, but the best idea we have

Credit Recovery is a way for us to sort of fix the problem of 20 week courses. Students learn at different paces, and life gets in the way. Ideally, we wouldn’t give students the opportunity to fail. Everyone would be enrolled in the right courses, they would all be 100% engaged at all times, they would have the extra two weeks they need to master the topic.

Since that’s not going to happen, I think it’s reasonable to give students more chances, and to be careful to keep those opportunities relevant to their past performance to ensure the validity of the credits they achieve. It’s a good idea; we just need to do it right.

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