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U.S. High Schools May Be Over-Relying On Online Credit Recovery to Boost Their Graduation Rates.

Florida’s superintendents had a graduation problem.

Nearly a decade ago, state officials decreed that starting in 2009 graduation data would factor into the letter grades assigned to individual schools.  The stakes were high: Consecutive failing marks meant that the state could mandate major changes, like replacing the school’s principal; significant improvement, or an A grade, translated into extra cash for perks like teacher bonuses and athletic equipment.

The policy change worried Reginald James, then the superintendent of the Gadsden County School District on the Florida Panhandle. By 2010, Gadsden’s graduation rate had fallen to a bleak 43 percent, the second worst performance of any district in the state.

So at the start of the 2010–11 school year, James initiated a host of new efforts: lecturing parents about the importance of keeping their teenagers on track, meeting with guidance counselors to review student performance, and pouring money into an after-school ACT tutoring program (at the time, kids had to pass the ACT, the SAT, or a state standardized test in order to graduate). For his efforts he saw a 12-point boost in the graduation rate—pretty good, but not nearly high enough.

The summer after that exhausting school year drew to a close, James heard about a different way to raise Gadsden’s graduation rates: online credit recovery.