Students who fail can make up classes online: Does it do more harm than good?

Channel 2 Action News investigation found tens of thousands of Georgia high school seniors enroll in so-called credit recovery courses to make up failed courses they need to graduate.

But a critic tells Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher it’s time for a serious debate about credit recovery.

Nat Malkus, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., has studied credit recovery for years and believes the results are too good to be true.

“Is it cheating? I don’t know but it’s in the ballpark,” Malkus told Belcher. “For decades we’ve been trying to raise standards…these credit recovery programs threaten to undo the standards.”

Malkus has studied schools all over the country and analyzed the first national data on credit recovery. He told Belcher it’s far too difficult to get accurate data, and too few school districts clearly explain credit recovery to parents and their communities.

Malkus grants that the programs begin with the best of intentions but said there have been abuses.

“We’re giving students a credential, a diploma, for passing courses in programs where they haven’t done the work that other students have done,” Malkus said.

Marietta High School Principal Keith Ball balked at Malkus’ cheating comparison. Seventeen percent of seniors at his school were enrolled in at least one credit recover program last school year.

Marietta’s district is one of the smallest in metro Atlanta, with enrollment at 8,806 last school year.

“If we’re doing to do a better job of addressing student needs, I think digital learning is ultimately part of it,” Ball said.

“Do you acknowledge that some skepticism is warranted?” Belcher asked.

“Absolutely,” Ball said.

Malkus said his national research revealed higher credit recovery numbers are usually found in schools with more minorities, higher rates of poverty and absenteeism, lower test scores and graduation rates.

At Marietta High principle Ball said 50 percent of students are low income and qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Channel 2 Action News examined credit recovery numbers for 11 metro Atlanta school districts. Nearly 25,000 students enrolled in credit recovery statewide during the last full school year.

The highest numbers of seniors in credit recovery were in Fulton County Schools, City of Atlanta Schools and Dekalb County Schools.

The highest percentages of seniors taking credit recovery were at Marietta City Schools, Clayton County Schools, Fulton County Schools, City of Atlanta Schools and Hall County Schools.

Malkus said he is convinced the surge in credit recovery is largely about graduation rates. He urges parents and taxpayers to be wary.

“If [the graduation rate] is going up too fast to believe, you should definitely be suspicious,” Malkus said.

Ball said Marietta’s credit recovery program is not showing a big impact on their graduation numbers because they’re currently below the state and national average.

Ball also noted that student in credit recover and traditional course work all must pass state mandated end-of-course tests, so that particular measurement of success can’t be avoided.

Mallkus is concerned that credit recovery programs could turn into a cheap makeup course instead of a rigorous second chance.

“I think they’re missing the point — what’s best for the kid instead of focusing on is this easy or is this hard,” Ball said.

But Malkus acknowledges that making changes, especially sudden changes, in the use of credit recovery, would be difficult.

“They have become part of the way today that graduation rates are earned,” Malkus said. “If you pull some of these programs you’re going to have big drops in graduation rates.”

COBB 112,099 1,606 9,041 N/A 7,701
FULTON 94,974 1,189 7,283 845 6,862
ATLANTA 52,147 2,120 6,111 608 4,876
DEKALB 33,607 1,645 7,078 591 5,306
DECATUR 5,774 60 283 10 271
MARIETTA 8,806 265 541 93 483
GWINNETT 179,266 3,039 13,013 N/A 12,238
CHEROKEE 44,470 880 3,103 221 2,928
FORSYTH 48,053 238 3,192 133 3,137
CLAYTON 54,347 1,980 3,075 443 2,830
HALL 27,311 651 2,010 218 1,920