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Getting Students Back on Track to Graduate: A Q&A Session on Credit Recovery at DCPS

We sat down with Shemia Anderson, Graduation Manager at DC Public Schools, to see how they’re using credit recovery to support high school students and get them back on track to graduating.

DCPS launched its redesign credit recovery program in 2018-19. What are some of the changes implemented? 

Anderson: We revised the credit recovery program to ensure that all of our students had the opportunity to succeed and were held to rigorous standards of excellence. Beginning the 2019-20 school year, credit recovery was available at a variety of our high schools and students had access to individualized competency-based courses that are aligned to the DCPS curriculum standards. These courses enable our students to progress at their own pace through content that they didn’t master in their original course to earn course credit on their path towards graduation.

Which students are eligible for the credit recovery courses?

Anderson: Our credit recovery courses are available to all DCPS students in grades nine through 12 who have previously attempted and failed an eligible class. So, you must have an “F” on your transcript in order to move forward with the program. The availability depends on the individual school, but our courses are offered after school Monday-Friday from 3:45 to 7PM.

How did you redesign the curriculum to better evaluate where students needed to master their competencies? 

Anderson: When looking at where students didn't master certain pieces of core content, one thing DCPS does is make sure that we are holding the credit recovery standards of rigor high and aligning it to the standard curriculum. We make sure that it really mirrors what they're learning throughout the day.

How have ESSER funds allowed you to widen the scope of the redesigned credit recovery program? 

Anderson: ESSER funds have allowed us to offer more classes and work with more teachers. It increases your staff, as well as the number of students that are taking part in your credit recovery program.

What is the role of the Credit Recovery Coordinators at DCPS and who do they collaborate with?

Anderson: I was previously in the role of a credit recovery coordinator, which specifically works with students who are at risk of not graduating. 

Coordinators often collaborate with school counselors to develop academic achievement strategies to make sure that those students are aware of credits they need to make up, and then get those students in those classes.

Having students see adults work to help get them back on track helps them feel important—knowing that their coordinator, teacher, and counselor are collaborating to put them first.

What metrics of success have you been looking at in your continuous improvement process?

Anderson: One thing we always look for as a metric of success is graduation rate. You're going to look at how many students are able to recover these credits to help them get to the 24 hours needed to walk across the stage. We are constantly monitoring our credit recovery dashboard, which shows the number of enrolled students in credit recovery courses and their completion rate.

Does that data inform any decision-making that goes into designing the program? 

Anderson: Absolutely, for example we will use the data from this year to help us make informed decisions about what classes are needed for the following year. Hypothetically speaking, if you have 100 students who need to regain an Algebra 1 credit, you then know that is a priority and a need. We can then decide to move forward with having that class as a credit recovery class next year. That informs the amount of people that you need to hire to teach these classes effectively and continue to make sure the rigor of the instruction is high.

How has COVID impacted the redesigned credit recovery program?

Anderson: I don’t think anyone expected COVID to last as long as it has. We had to look at how we were going to continue to have credit recovery as everything turned virtual. But we continued to push and set the standards and rigor high, regardless of the fact that these were virtual classes. 

Teachers were teaching from seven to three in their normal workday, but then were teaching after hours 3:45 to seven o’clock when the credit recovery programs were going on. We then had to make sure that students had sufficient technology needs at home to be able to still maintain the rigor. All of our students received technology so that they were able to be successful throughout the day and in the evening time, as well. 

Are you still leveraging virtual learning for credit recovery even as students are back to in-person learning? 

Anderson: We’re doing what we call hybrid classes, where students can learn online with the teacher, but then they do the hybrid location where they're actually coming in to get instruction, as well. We’re offering some classes virtual to give those students who have come into contact with COVID the flexibility. We don’t want the learning to be lost, so we're still offering students a way of continuing with their lesson despite the fact that they can't come into the classroom. 

How are you ensuring that all students know about and have access to the credit recovery courses? 

Anderson: I can speak to this, being a credit recovery coordinator for the past five years. Coordinators, with the help of counselors, make sure students and families are aware of credits they need to make up to graduate. They work throughout the year because they are in-house and know the needs of the student population and are able to connect with them. 

Coordinators participate in what I call open houses of credit recovery: they host events like ice cream socials or back-to-school nights where they talk with the families about the academic credit recovery supports DCPS has in place and how we are supporting the student during the day and afterschool. 

It depends on the school. Personally, I've done things like having families out for spaghetti dinners where we have a meal; we break bread together. I would present what credit recovery is, how they were eligible for it, and how we could get them signed up. We’re engaging the stakeholders at that point. I would have my counselors signing students up right then and there for their credit recovery.

Can you speak on the importance of providing credit recovery courses to students in grades 9-10, as well as 11-12?

Anderson: It’s best practice to recover those credits sooner rather than waiting until the student’s junior or senior year. Students have their senior year credits that they normally take, and now they have to recover some credits that they need ninth and tenth grade—that anxiety starts to set in. They’re wonder how they’re going to get all of those credits. That’s where our counselors and our pathway coordinators come into effect, having those conversations with students and building those individual plans to determine when they're going to take the classes to get back on track to graduate.

Having those proactive conversations with students helps them develop the skills to advocate for themselves. We want them to know when they failed and come into sophomore year taking initiative and having those conversations with their counselors, rather than a counselor having to tell them. That’s setting our students up for success.

What else would you like people to know about credit recovery at DCPS? 

Anderson: I’ve worked with the credit recovery program in DCPS for five years and the one thing that I’ve found is the program continues to grow. Our students not only recover credit, but they gain lasting relationships with students and their teachers. Because they may have a teacher throughout the day that they now see in the evening time, or it may be a totally different teacher. But one of the things that I'd really like to point out is that our students are learning how to advocate for themselves.


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