Comparing the Effectiveness of Online and Face-to-Face Credit Recovery in Algebra I
The Back on Track Study: Research Brief 1
Failing core academic courses during the first year of high school is a strong signal of trouble to come; course failures during ninth grade are associated with notable declines in four-year graduation rates. To get back on track, students who fail classes need opportunities to recover credit. Historically, students retook required classes in summer school or during the school year in a face-to-face setting. Online learning has emerged as a popular strategy for credit recovery. Providing credit recovery opportunities is now one of the most common purposes for offering online courses in K–12 educational settings. Offering online credit recovery can provide flexibility for schools and students. Online courses are promoted as more engaging and interactive than face-to-face classes and providing individualized feedback and pacing. However, evidence about the efficacy of online credit recovery is lacking.
This brief summarizes findings from an experimental study that tested the impact of online Algebra I for credit recovery against the standard face-to-face version of the course for students in Chicago Public Schools who failed the course during their first year of high school. The study was designed to provide information for districts around the country faced with decisions about offering credit recovery course options.
- Students found the online course more difficult and had more negative attitudes about mathematics than students in the face-to-face course.
- Online course students had lower algebra assessment scores, grades, and credit recovery rates than face-to-face course students.
- Longer-term academic outcomes were not significantly different for students in the online and face-to-face credit recovery courses.
The study results suggest that both online and face-to-face credit recovery courses allow students to recover credit, but these courses do not appear to change students’ generally low-performing trajectories. The authors conclude that continued improvement of online courses, particularly for highly at-risk students, is essential for fulfilling the great need for flexible alternatives for students whose futures depend on opportunities to get back on track in school.