Dr. Leslie Chang, Superintendent of Instruction & Leadership, featured in LASchoolReport.com Article

Dr. Leslie Chang, Superintendent of Instruction & Leadership, featured in LASchoolReport.com Article

Credit recovery at charter schools: Higher grad rates mean less need for online makeup classes; pre-test bar is more stringent than LAUSD’s

While LA Unified is firmly committed to online credit recovery classes as a means to the district’s newly stated top goal — 100 percent graduation — Los Angeles charter school operators use these classes much more sparingly, as their graduation rates tend to be far ahead of the district’s.

At three of the city’s largest charter management organizations, no more than 5 percent of students have taken an online credit recovery course. LA Unified has yet to report how many of their 2016 graduates used credit recovery to gain a diploma. A $15-million credit recovery program took LA Unified’s projected graduation rate from 49 percent last fall to an estimated 75 percent this summer, a record. The official graduation rate will be reported later this fall.

The three CMO’s also have more stringent policies for testing out of a course. LA Unified allows students to test out of much of a course if they can score 60 percent on a pre-test. The charters set that bar higher or don’t allow testing out.

“I strongly support the use of online learning, not just for credit recovery but for enrichment and for broadening the curriculum. That said, across all of our schools, only 1.3 percent of the course credits are provided through online learning,” said Caprice Young, who is CEO of Magnolia Public Schools and also a former LA Unified school board president.

Last school year, as part of a $15 million program, LA Unified for the first time implemented a major push for online credit recovery courses across the district. The move was in response to a looming graduation crisis, as the school board raised the bar for graduation requirements and installed a series of courses called “A through G.” Students would need to take and pass the A-G courses before the end of their senior year, and if they earned all C grades or above would be eligible for admittance into California’s public universities, although the district allows D’s for graduation.

The district was unprepared for the raised bar, so part way through the fall of 2015 the credit recovery program kicked in. This year the courses were offered as soon as school started.

The dramatic increase in the graduation rate has turned some heads in the academic world, with some experts questioning the validity and rigor of online credit recovery courses. In that program, students without enough credits to graduate retake classes during free periods, after school, on Saturdays and during the winter break. The courses are online and have either a teacher running the class along with a computer program, known as blended learning, or an all-online course known as virtual learning. If students prove proficiency with the material they receive a C grade at LA Unified. A’s and B’s aren’t an option.

But LA Unified is not alone in using online credit recovery programs despite their controversial nature. Most large districts across the country also use them, as do at least three of the largest CMOs authorized by LA Unified, although each one appears to use them on a far more limited basis. And each CMO — PUC Schools, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and Magnolia Public Schools — had a different set of guidelines regarding if students could pre-test out of some course material.


“We most definitely use it very sparingly. It is not our goal to use it in place of intervention and support,” said Leslie Chang, superintendent of leadership and instruction for PUC Schools. PUC operates 16 schools, of which six are high schools.

Chang said PUC used Apex Learning for its online programs, which is one of two companies that LA Unified also uses. Chang estimated that 4 or 5 percent of PUC graduates last year had taken at least one online course and said it was most commonly used when a student transferred into a PUC school already behind in credits.

“If the child is behind and we determine that based on their current schedule they may need to take an additional course, then we will offer that option to them. We want to make sure it is not the go-to for everything that is required for graduation for our schools. Typically, a select few number of students will use the blended learning approach,” Chang said.

PUC also has different guidelines on pre-testing. While LA Unified allows students to skip chapters or units if they pass at least 60 percent of a pre-test, PUC sets the pre-test bar at 70 percent.

“I think there is a place for online learning in the academic experience of every student in today’s day and age. I do not think it can replace the power and effectiveness of a teacher, and if a student is behind in credits or content, then blended learning can have a very powerful effect,” Chang said. “But they really do have to be in tandem with teacher support and done very strategically and intentionally.”

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