As the weather heats up and students head off to summer break, enrollment in summer school continues to decline. Much has been written about how the summer break contributes to learning loss, but one group forgotten in the discussion is those students who need summer school to make up for failed classes.
As the safety net of summer school disappears for failing students, districts are feeling the pressure to find new solutions for those that fall behind on credits. Grade recovery, or credit recovery, is one option cash-strapped school districts are using. Students that receive D’s or F’s are offered the chance to complete an online program and receive a C for the completed course rather than attend the traditional summer school session. From a district’s point of view, grade recovery and other programs like it are a win-win. Students make up courses, districts avoid the cost of staffing summer school, and graduation rates increase.
The problem is these programs take away the incentive — especially for older students — to show up and do the work when it’s supposed to happen: in class time, during the school year. In some districts, all students must be given the opportunity to complete grade recovery programs. A student that has skipped, slept, or fought their way through a school year can show up in June and get full credit for the course by simply completing grade recovery. Often the grade recovery “course” is a shadow of the year-long course. At one Denver school, grade recovery consisted of one multiple choice exam that students took over and over until they receive a passing grade. Even worse, I have witnessed students paying other students to complete their grade recovery work for them. While some students take the grade recovery program seriously, there is little oversight over who actually completes the work, since it’s designed as a program students can do at home.
The question of what to do with failing students has always been an issue. As summer school budgets disappear and pressure to raise graduation rates intensifies, here’s to hoping districts don’t take the easy way out and continue to rely on ineffectual programs that act as a rubber stamp to social promotion. Rigorous summer school programs are important, not just as an option for those students who want to fight the summer brain drain, but also because grade recovery programs often don’t cut it.
Written by Education Sector policy intern (and former high school teacher) Jared Billings.