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Credit Recovery Undermines Standards

In a blatant attempt to boost graduation rates, school districts are allowing students who lack sufficient credits to make them up by what is known as credit recovery. The practice is highly controversial because it comes at a time when the value of a high school diploma earned in the traditional way is already suspect.

The latest example was seen in the Los Angeles Unified School District when three students who failed a required course were permitted to make up the class in a few days at another school and then return to graduate with their classmates ("L.A. district weighing graduation of students who failed class," Los Angeles Times, Jun. 30). Teachers at the STEM Academy were outraged that the students were able to withdraw on June 13, attend the Alonzo Community Day School the next day, and then re-enroll on June 15. They rightly argued that this set a bad precedent.

They were not the first to do so. When teachers in New York City protested over credit recovery in 2008, the city's Education Department responded that principals had long found creative ways to help struggling students make up work and graduate on time ("Lacking Credits, Some Students Learn a Shortcut," The New York Times, Apr. 11, 2008). Officials said that as long as credit recovery is conducted properly, it is justified.

I have a few questions. What are the grade point averages of students who are allowed to participate in credit recovery? How much work are students missing? These are relevant to judging the practice. But in the absence of answers, I'm skeptical about the probability of students learning in a few days what other students need an entire semester to learn. One possible defense is they are so advanced for one reason or another that they can demonstrate their proficiency in such a short period of time. In other words, these students are virtuosos. I don't buy that argument. I think credit recovery is a thinly disguised attempt to make schools look good on their graduation rate because it is an important factor in determining salaries that principals receive.

Nevertheless, I expect the practice to spread in the years ahead. There are simply too many incentives. I also anticipate elaborate rationales offered up to defend credit recovery. But no matter how it is packaged, credit recovery makes a mockery of the standards movement by cheapening a high school diploma.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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