For struggling students, recovery where credit is due

Heads up: Technological improvements can help, but parents and educators must identify struggling students early.
By HARRY AURORA //

Educators are keenly aware that the underachievement of a student isn’t always a true representation of the student’s capabilities.

Poor academic performance, sporadic attendance and antisocial behavior aren’t habits that develop overnight, nor is any student wholly responsible for finding him or herself in that situation.

Research has indicated that students develop poor academic and social habits at a young age. Therefore, educators have a profound responsibility to identify, understand and manage the early-warning signs of high-risk students.

The U.S. Department of Education defines “at-risk” students as those failing to achieve basic proficiency in key subjects or exhibiting behaviors that can lead to failure and/or dropouts – and when it comes to these things, there are often signs.

One data point, perhaps coming too late, in which early warnings of poor academic performance are especially predictive is the graduation rate. Students who display steady signs of poor academic and social performance as early as first grade are at an increased risk of dropping out of high school, according to some studies – research that reminds us that while the national graduation rate is climbing to record highs, we still have much to do in order to protect our most at-risk children from falling through the cracks.

Giving all the credit: Credit recovery programs can be the struggling student’s savior, says Harry Aurora.

As students begin to fall behind and schools look for early-intervention options, a comprehensive credit recovery program can offer a lifeline to students. Credit recovery programs are the most effective method of academic intervention to help students who have failed a class, requiring them to redo the coursework and make up seat time. They are essential to helping steer at-risk students back on track and prevent the widening of the achievement gap.

They also provide confidence to struggling students that all hope is not lost and there’s still time to get on the same track with their friends and fellow students. One failing grade shouldn’t ruin an entire educational career – something particularly imperative to consider now, as we learn more about the role mental health plays in student performance.

According to recent Education Department research on helping at-risk students graduate, 89 percent of U.S. high schools offer at least one credit recovery course and approximately 15 percent of all U.S. high school students have participated in at least one credit recovery course.

These programs are vital, benefiting both the individual student and the school district (by lowering overall dropout rates). But just as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to traditional classroom instruction, credit recovery programs are optimized when they are personally tailored to the unique needs of the student.

In recent decades, in line with improvements in technology, schools have increasingly opted for online credit recovery programs over traditional in-person courses. In fact, according to the Education Department, 71 percent of all credit recovery courses are provided to students online and 46 percent of schools offered a blended model with an in-person facilitator using online tools.

Personalized online instruction can be particularly useful for credit recovery purposes because it makes one-on-one instruction possible on the student’s terms. If a student is failing a class, there is clearly an underlying issue that isn’t being addressed in the classroom setting – perhaps the student was never adequately taught the fundamentals and cannot understand the next-level course material, or the student is overwhelmed by lessons that are moving too fast.

Credit recovery programs should include differentiated instruction tailored to the individual strengths and weaknesses of struggling students in vulnerable states. By individualizing and differentiating instruction, teachers and students can build a positive relationship that fosters increased engagement with the coursework and a better overall learning experience.

It’s up to educators, parents and mentors to identify the early-warning signs of poor academic performance and provide guidance and academic intervention at the onset. A national dropout rate in the teens sounds like a great accomplishment – and it is, relative to years past – but no educator should be satisfied until that number is zero.

Harry Aurora is the founder and CEO of Jericho-based digital-education innovator iTutor.