For years proponents of online learning have been touting the benefits of allowing students to experience a personalized learning approach tailored to their needs and schedules. This is certainly true of original credit courses and completion and pass rates are positive numbers for most virtual schools to share. Credit recovery success, on the other hand, is more difficult to document. As one might expect, completion and pass rates are often much lower than original credit numbers.
Why is this? One can say that the average credit recovery student comes into class with the odds stacked against him/her. The student has already failed the course at least once. Their confidence in the material is probably low. Perhaps they failed the original course because of lack of self-motivation or poor time management…both of which are very important success indicators in an online course. Once a credit recovery student comes into an online course it may be too late to change some characteristics or behaviors…but not all. What if the program was tailored to support students who are not natural self-starters, tech savvy or motivated…the non-traditional online learner?
At the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance, we have been sharing best practices and strategies to target the credit recovery population in hopes of demonstrating that credit recovery students can be as successful in credit recovery as those in original credit courses. Over the past year Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) and Illinois Virtual School (IVS) have independently made improvements to their programs to better support credit recovery students. In the August 30, 2017 edition of this blog, you learned about the MTDA efforts. Today you will learn how Illinois Virtual School (IVS) took steps to raise up more of our credit recovery students towards successful earning of credit.
In November 2016, the IVS team started an initiative to review our credit recovery program. The goal was to explore what was working as well as what could work better to improve the overall success rate of the program. During the 2015-2016 school year, our credit recovery success rate was 61% compared to an original credit rate of 93%.
The IVS Credit Recovery program originally had a course timeline of 10 weeks. If students did not complete the course, a failing grade was entered. The student could re-enroll to continue working in the course, but the initial failing grade was maintained on their overall completion report. We found many students that re-enrolled were successful in the course the second time around, they just needed more time. Also, support for the credit recovery student was directed to the local school, so if a student had trouble logging in or turning in homework, they were to rely on local school staff, not IVS, personnel. Taking a closer look at the average student experience, the IVS team found many students working in the program with no support or encouragement from their school or family. They were completely on their own. Certainly, anyone would agree that a key factor for student success in an online credit recovery program (in any educational program) is support! An Education Week article (At-Risk Students Face E-Learning Challenges, August 24, 2011) stated, “Stepping into a virtual learning environment can help struggling students interact with curricula in a new way, begin learning with a clean slate, and provide more flexibility to accommodate work or family obligations, say educators and experts working online with students who are at risk of academic failure. But none of those factors will make such students successful unless they have the support and resources they need to engage with the material and the motivation to work hard for their credits, experts stress.”
IVS re-focused its efforts to improve the Credit Recovery program regarding both time and support. Starting in January 2017, IVS made the following changes to the Credit Recovery program:
- The initial time available to the student to complete a competency-based semester credit recovery course was extended 12 weeks. Students that demonstrate progress are given extension options for more time to complete the course. To qualify for an initial extension of 3 weeks, students must have completed 50% of the assignments in the course. Another 3-week extension may be granted if the student continues to progress and submit assignments. In total, a student may be granted up to 18 weeks to complete a semester credit recovery course.
- Students that do not start their credit recovery course in the first two weeks of enrollment are dropped without a charge. Students who are dropped are given the option to re-enroll in the course. This process of dropping students that did not start working in their course allowed IVS staff to discuss the situation with the local school and student resulting in identifying the best start date for the course as well as establishing a support network for the non-starters who wish to re-enroll.
- IVS designated an administrative team member as the Support Lead for credit recovery students. The IVS Support Lead continually monitors student progress, communicates with the student, parent and school regarding progress, and intervenes with technical support when needed. While the certified instructor is grading submitted assignments and providing feedback (IVS CR includes written work, not computer graded), the Support Lead is helping to remove technical and logistical barriers to student progress so teachers focus on student learning.
Did it work? When IVS revisited the data for January 2017 – June 2017 we found 85% of students earning a passing grade compared to 70% for the same time period, the previous year. Therefore, we hail a resounding YES!
Upon reflection of the program at large, the changes made were logical and non-invasive to our current operations, the transition being relatively smooth and positively received by IVS staff and much appreciated by our partner schools, parents and students. We encourage all schools to take a hard look at the support, not just being offered, but what is actually happening with students to see if there is room for improvement. At IVS we work every day to ensure a positive student experience and meaningful credits toward graduation, and are always open to self-reflection to push positive change.