Assessing the Efficacy of Online Credit Recovery on Student Learning and High School Graduation

Image of high school students at a computer

School districts across the country are increasingly using online courses to expand credit recovery options for high school students who need to recover credit after failing a course. However, the growing use of online credit recovery has considerably outpaced the research. As concerns mount over how much students learn in online courses, and as questions arise about how to best implement online credit recovery, there is a critical need for rigorous evidence about the use of online credit recovery.

AIR, in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to study online credit recovery. The study focuses on first-year high school students who failed Algebra 1 or ninth-grade English (English 9) and retook the course during the summer before their second year of high school.

Listen to Jordan Rickles discuss the project on the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute's podcast.

Read this In the Field piece from 2020 for lessons learned about remote and hybrid learning from this and other online learning studies that AIR has conducted. 

The study had two main goals:

  1. Provide rigorous evidence about an online credit recovery course’s effects on student outcomes compared with a standard teacher-directed course.
  2. Describe how online credit recovery provides students with different educational experiences compared with a standard teacher-directed course.

The first phase of the project was completed in June 2022. During the first phase of the project we produced a series of research briefs that discuss the findings regarding the relative effect of the online credit recovery classes compared with the teacher-directed classes on students’ near-term outcomes, how the online and teacher-directed classes were implemented, and a cost analysis.

Study Findings Published in Peer-Reviewed Journals

A multisite randomized study of an online learning approach to high school credit recovery: Effects on student experiences and proximal outcomes” in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness

Comparing the costs of online and teacher-directed credit recovery” in Educational Policy

The second phase of the project will be completed in June 2024. During this phase, the project focused on four activities:

  • Reporting on findings regarding the relative effect of online credit recovery classes on students’ longer-term outcomes (e.g., high school graduation);
  • Further examining the characteristics of students who need credit recovery and how they progress through high school;
  • Providing student perspectives on their credit recovery experience through student interviews conducted during the summer of 2022; and
  • Describing the current national landscape for credit recovery through a district survey and interviews conducted during the spring of 2023.


Research Briefs

Brief 1 | Online Credit Recovery: Study Overview (October 2020, PDF)

The first brief provides an overview of the study, including descriptions of the study’s online learning model, participants, and implementation and study outcome measures.

Brief 2 | Online Credit Recovery: Initial Findings for Algebra 1 (October 2020, PDF)

The second brief highlights key findings about implementation and student academic outcomes at the end of the summer term for Algebra 1 credit recovery classes.

Brief 3 | Online Credit Recovery: Initial Findings for English 9 (October 2020, PDF)

The third brief highlights key findings about implementation and student academic outcomes at the end of the summer term for English 9 credit recovery classes.

Brief 4 | Online Credit Recovery: Resources and Costs (October 2020, PDF)

The fourth brief highlights key findings about the differences in the resources and costs between the online and teacher-directed credit recovery courses.

Brief 5 | Online Credit Recovery: Teachers’ Perspectives on Lessons Learned (June 2021, PDF)

The fifth brief sheds light on some of the challenges that teachers experienced in teaching an online credit recovery class and highlights five lessons learned for improving the implementation of online credit recovery classes.

Brief 6 | Online Credit Recovery: Patterns of Student Engagement in the Online Program (September 2021, PDF)

The sixth brief provides a more detailed look at how students in the online credit recovery classes engaged with and progressed through the online program.

Brief 7 | Online Credit Recovery: Evolution of an Implementation Model (September 2021, PDF)

The seventh brief describes how the school district’s approach to online courses evolved in response to preliminary findings from the study.

Brief 8 | Recovering Course Credit Early in High School: What Works According to Students? (May 2024, PDF)

The eighth brief provides findings from interviews of students who successfully passed their credit recovery course in summer 2022 to better understand the credit recovery experience from the student perspective.

Brief 9 | Progress Toward High School Graduation (May 2024, PDF)

The ninth brief extends the analysis from the initial impact study to see whether online credit recovery affects students’ progress toward on-time high school graduation.

Brief 10 | Further Insights into Student Engagement Patterns in the Online Program (May 2024, PDF)

The tenth brief extends the analysis of online program usage data from Brief 6 to include more students who enrolled in Algebra 1 or English 9 credit recovery classes at any point in their first four years of high school and examine how students focus on different instructional activities in the online program.

Brief 11 | When Do Students Attempt Credit Recovery (Coming Soon, PDF)

The eleventh brief uses longitudinal data on two high school student cohorts to describe when students attempt credit recovery and whether there are systematic differences in who attempted credit recovery early in high school and who delayed credit recovery until later.

Brief 12 | Landscape of High School Credit Recovery in U.S. Public Schools: Perspectives from District Leaders (Coming Soon, PDF)

The twelfth brief uses survey and interview data from district leaders across the country to describe the current uses of credit recovery.

Technical Supplement (May 2021, PDF)

This technical supplement provides more details about the study sample, data, measures, and analyses.