Policy in Practice: Credit Recovery in Connecticut

The Keeping Pace 2014 profile of Connecticut discusses PA No. 10-111 (2010) which required districts with dropout rates of 8% or higher to establish online credit recovery programs. The law also required that each school designate (from existing staff) an online learning coordinator to “administer and coordinate the online credit recovery program.” There is no formal monitoring process by, or funding from, the Department of Education. On the surface the law sounds like an excellent idea. If a student fails a class, she should have the ability to retake that class in order to stay on track to graduation. Credit recovery classes can be offered online or in person, in a scheduled class period or via independent study, during the school year or during summer school. Many credit recovery programs are competency-based, allowing students to move quickly through items they have already mastered and spend more time on items where they are struggling. Online credit recovery options abound (Education Next just published a great article about online credit recovery options for students), and credit recovery can be a relatively easy entry point for schools launching online or blended programs.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 88% of all districts in the country made credit recovery options available to their students in 2009-10; that report defines credit recovery as, “Credit recovery courses/programs are opportunities allowing students to recover course credits from classes they have missed or failed.” It seems likely that the other 12% of districts simply re-enroll students in the same class, often with the same teacher, to try again.

When Connecticut passed its law, it appeared likely to create significant new opportunities for students needing to recover credit. However, a closer look at a few key statistics shows that in fact few students are helped:

The graduation rate and the annual dropout rate are very different because they represent two different calculations. In 2009-10, Connecticut determined its graduation rate of 81.8% based on a four-year cohort, which is calculated by tracking individual students from the time they enroll as first-time 9th graders. The remaining students were not all categorized as dropouts. They may fit into one of a variety of other categories including those who:

  • Are still enrolled beyond 4 years,
  • Dropped out to enroll in a GED program,
  • Transferred to postsecondary education, or
  • Have an unknown status.

The annual dropout rate is the measure that triggers the law, however, and only two districts out of 135 districts in the state, representing 2.8% of the state’s 9-12 students, reported a dropout rate of 8% or higher in 2009-10,  (see Data Tables / Dropouts / Annual Dropout Percentage Rates Across Grades 9-12 / All Districts / Run Report).

  • Bridgeport had a dropout rate of 8.6%; the district reported total enrollment of 4,917 students and 423 dropouts.
  • Lisbon School District had a dropout rate of 9.1%; the district reported total enrollment of 22 students and 2 dropouts.

While it is commendable for Connecticut to take action to ensure that some students have access to credit recovery options, digging into the data reveals that perhaps the cutoff should be a bit lower than 8% to allow a substantial percentage of students to be able to access more and better options for recovering credit.