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Questions Over Measurement of Learning Leads to Questions Over Credit Recovery

December 22, 2015

“A Wink, a Nod, and a Diploma”, Robert Pondiscio’s USNews and World Report article, questions whether the recent celebration over increased high school graduation rates is the result of many students gaining diplomas through “Credit Recovery”, the means used to accumulate the credits needed for a student to graduate from high school.

Using two anecdotes about students who graduated from credit recovery programs as examples of the kinds of programs that lead to a diploma, Pondiscio laments the fact that there is no national standard for credit recovery and intimates that the increase in graduation rates might be the result of chicanery:

Earlier this year, the U.S. graduation rate hit a record high of 81 percent. How much of that is due to credit recovery? At present, we can only guess. “I do believe credit recovery is contributing to the increase in graduation rates, but it is very hard to distinguish ‘good’ credit recovery from ‘bad’ credit recovery,” says Russell Rumberger, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. “The former would provide a level of rigor and learning similar to regular classes, while the latter does not. The problem is that we have little data on credit overall or data on the quality of credit recovery being provided.” The result is an amorphous blob that is ripe for abuse, overlaid onto school systems that already have every incentive to graduate students and send them out into the world, ready or not.

And here are some examples of paradoxes that arise if we, as a nation, decided to change schooling to address the concerns about “credit recovery”:

  • Quantifying the “amorphous blob that is ripe for abuse” requires the setting of national standards… and we are moving further away from such a standard by the passage of ESSA
  • There is an implicit assumption that diplomas gained by accumulating credits based on seat time are somehow more valid than those accumulated through credit recovery… and we are increasingly recognizing that learning takes place outside the classroom is often more valuable and relevant than that that takes place in the classroom.
  • There is an implication that credit recovery that replaces direct instruction with passing of a test is invalid… yet we allow students to get college credits for passing AP tests.

These underlying cross currents need to be addressed in some form, and I believe the best means of doing so is by abandoning the archaic seat time measure that is the basis for the factory school and replacing it with some kind of credentialing mechanism that requires a demonstration that a student possesses the skills and knowledge needed to advance to the next tier of learning or for entry into the workforce. We have the wherewithal to move in this direction, which is more akin to Illich’s “Deschooling” than Skinner’s behaviorist testing schemes… but we won’t move that way at all as long as we loosen and de-regulate the standards for measuring learning.

And therein is the biggest paradox of all: in order to loosen the structure of schooling we need to tighten the structure of measurement.

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