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Regents are weighing procedural rules for "credit recovery"

Some high schools allow students who fail a class to get credit for it anyway by completing a short course or special project in a controversial practice known as “credit recovery.” But despite the practice’s widespread use, credit recovery has actually never been permitted under state regulations, which require a certain amount of “seat time” for students to earn course credit.

Now, the practice could soon get a green light from the State Education Department, which last year said it would review whether credit recovery met its standards for course completion. At its meeting this week, the Board of Regents reviewed a proposal from SED for a formal policy on what the department called “‘making-up’ course credit.”

The proposed policy, which SED developed in collaboration with the city Department of Education, does away with seat time as a basic standard for whether students earn high school course credit. The proposal would require schools to establish committees of teachers and administrators to determine whether a student’s make-up work should receive credit. It would not require that students spend a specific amount of time making up the credit, but it would mandate that replacement instruction be given by a teacher certified in the subject. (The full proposal is at the end of this post.)

SED Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier told the committee that a policy is needed because credit recovery programs are becoming more prevalent. “As these pathways are more frequently used, it is important to provide clear, up-to-date guidance on what is permissible concerning the awarding of credit,” she wrote in her summary of the issue.

The proposed policy appears for the most part to codify practices that are already taking place in many city schools, said Stephen Phillips, a professor in Brooklyn College’s school of education who worked as a principal and superintendent in the city. The policy shows that SED is “trying to catch up some standards to what was going on” inside schools, he said.

Some schools have awarded credits to students who did only minimal makeup work, according to a 2008 article in the New York Times. The proposed policy does not specify reporting or audit requirements, leaving up to speculation how the state would ensure that schools are complying with the requirement that makeup programs be appropriately challenging.

“The state should assure that it will keep tabs on schools’ use of credit recovery and will post this information on its Web site,” said Diane Ravitch, the education historian who has said that credit recovery makes gains in the city’s graduation rate suspect.

Ravitch suggested that the state investigate whenever schools allow students to accumulate credits through routes other than traditional course completion at a high rate. “Credit recovery should be considered appropriate only for unusual situations and in no way should be considered an alternate route to graduation,” she said.

Phillips said the proposed policy offers “potential for abuse” but not more than many other regulations that don’t require extensive documentation to SED. “If people are honest and conscientious and have some ethics in how they administer the thing, then it’s fine,” Phillips said.

One unanswered question is whether the requirement to convene a course certification committee might be burdensome in schools where credit recovery is widespread. The proposal says that schools are already required to put together a similar committee to review appeals for Regents exams. But Phillips said that in all of his years working in the city schools, he never heard of anyone appealing a Regents score. Students are likely to seek credit recovery opportunities far more frequently.

The next step is for the proposal to be sent to teachers, administrators, and school boards across the state for feedback, according to SED officials.

“The proposal came out of a lot of productive conversations with the state, and we’re looking forward to hearing feedback from the field,” said Andy Jacob, a DOE spokesman.

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