The Effectiveness of the Georgia Credit Recovery Program On At Risk Students in an Urban High School In Georgia

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION

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            Georgia just like any other state has not escaped the challenge of At-risk students among its high schools. These are students who have a higher probability of not excelling academically as compared to their peers. In most cases, their GPA is below average and many have to repeat several grades more than once (Donmoyer and Kos, 1993). Most At-risk students barely make it to graduate in time if by any chance they catch up with their academics (Hamovitch, 1997). They are known to be potential dropouts if care is not taken to ensure that they get a positive insight about education. This group of students continues to be prevalent in Georgia and this has led to high dropout rates. According to Kids Count (2008), Georgia was classified as the 41st State in high school dropout rates in the July 2008. For many decades, schools have tried to wrestle with the challenges of At-risk students often designing programs and activities to help the students interact with their peers so as to improve their self-esteem (Miller and Lauer, 2004; O’Connor, 2001). Remedial classes have also been offered in the evenings and during the holidays to help these students catch up with their counterparts and hence excel academically. These activities have been done with the realization that these students could end up dropping out of school due to frustration and later turn to delinquent behavior such as crime and drug taking (Smink and Schargel, 2004; William, 1999).

            Perhaps the newest way strategy to help At-risk students that has emerged is the use of credit recovery systems (Watson and Gemin, 2008). Credit recovery system offers students a chance to retake the courses that they have failed in the regular school systems online (Nagle, 2008). This incorporates several tests which the student must pass before his or her grade can be reviewed. One such program is the Georgia Credit Recovery Program. The program was introduced with an aim of helping students to retake courses online so as to facilitate their graduation (Georgia Department of Education, 2009). It is provided free to all public schools in Georgia and unlike other tuition programs, the students work on their own without the guidance of a teacher. This paper explores the Georgia Credit Program to evaluate whether it has been effective in facilitating graduation of high school students in Georgia; whether students on the program record a higher GPA and whether this program has reduced the high school dropout rates in Georgia.

Statement of the Problem

            At-risk students are often faced by the risk of failing to graduate due to poor grades (Greene, 2001). Further, they are more likely to drop out of school before they graduate as a result of frustration. Understanding their needs and striving to achieve them through various programs is often necessary to facilitate their ability to perform well academically (Hoy and DiPaola, 2003). It is from this notion that credit recovery programs have been introduced to cater for such students. The Georgia Credit Recovery Program which was formed with an objective of helping At-risk students to graduate on time is in operation in over 175 schools (GE DOE, 2009). Its effectiveness in reducing the number of dropouts in Georgia schools and consequently raising the number of high school graduates has not come under scrutiny from many scholars so that the information available about the program is still scanty. There is need to conduct a study about this program to establish whether it is meeting its objectives. The relationship between the program and the ability of students to graduate on time must be established and so is the ability of the program to reduce the number of dropouts. This way we can determine the role that the Georgia Credit Recovery Program has played so far and whether it has been of any significance to At-risk students.

Background of the problem

            On average, at least one out of every four high school students in Georgia do not graduate in time because of unacceptable grades scored in their final exams (Kids Count, 2004). The number also includes students who have dropped out of school for one reason or another. Others have to repeat several grades before they can eventually get their high school diplomas. A closer look at these failure rates reveals that At-Risk students are the most affected due to the various challenges that they face during their school life (Margarita, 1987). At-Risk students is a term that educators use to refer to students who are academically challenged so that their probability of failing is very high (Nagle, 2008; Neill, 2003; Peterson, 1998). Challenges facing them could range from family background to disability and academic disadvantage. Majority of students in this group in most circumstances do not get to the final grade and they are likely to drop out before completion getting their high school diploma (O’Connor, 2001). A 1.0 grade point is required for high school graduates to gain admittance for a diploma in most schools in the United States. An average of 2.0 to 3.0 is the requirement for undergraduate institutions. At risk students who cannot achieve these grades have often been locked out thus denying them a chance to pursue higher education. Students who do not graduate end up being subjected to humiliating experiences with most of them having to depend on state aid and their parents since their qualifications do not allow them to get a decent job (Piatek, 2009). Others could even turn to crime as a means of livelihood. According to Georgia Department of Corrections (2003). At least 88 percent of inmates in Georgia prisons are said to be high school dropouts. Support programs for At-risk students are therefore absolutely necessary so as to prevent these undesirable effects from occurring.

            A brief outline of At-Risk students, failure and dropout rates.

            At-Risk students

            The term At-Risk students draws mixed reactions depending on the context and the audience in which the term is being used. Understanding At-Risk students however forms the basic background needed to aid this group of students to overcome the challenges that they face. An At-Risk student can be defined as a student who for one reason or another has a high probability of failing academically (Hamovitch, 1997; Druian, 1996). At-Risk students make up a large proportion of the population of high school students in Georgia. How these students end up being placed in this group can be explained by a variety of reasons. These include disability, academic disadvantage, ethnic minority and poor socioeconomic background (West, 1999).

                        Academic disadvantage

            Students falling under this group can be described as those who take longer than normal to understand what is taught in class. They could be slow learners or just poor in particular subjects. These students often lag behind and may need extra coaching to help them understand what has been taught in class. Unless these students are properly coached and offered after-school tuition, their probability of failing is increased significantly (Weber, 1986). It is therefore common to find such students failing to graduate or repeating several grades before they eventually graduate.

                        Socioeconomic background

            The background in which a student is brought up determines his or her performance in school in a large way. Students from poor backgrounds are more likely than those from average and high income backgrounds to be absent from school due to lack of fees and other basic provisions (Hoy and DiPaola, 2003). Financial problems may also impact on a student’s ability to perform well in school given that every student needs a supportive environment to study. Some of these students are forced to get part-time jobs so as to supplement the family income. This leaves them with little time to study as they are mostly exhausted from work (Kronick, 1990). Some may even skip school in order to go to work which highly impacts on their performance (Peelen, 2005). It becomes difficult when students have to go to school without basic provisions so that their performance is curtailed. Students with poor socioeconomic background can therefore be said to be at a risk of failing so that they may also be at a risk of failing to graduate from high school.

            Social problems are also classified here with common ones being early pregnancies, having relatives who are in jail and mentally retarded among others. Such happenings are a source of prejudice and stigma and students often feel unwanted in the student fraternity which affects them psychologically (Margarita, 1987). Raab (2008) notes that girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy rarely go back and therefore have to succumb being dependent on their relatives for their support. They are therefore likely to develop negative attitudes towards school which could affect their performance.

                        Disability

            Students with disabilities are surrounded by a host of problems that are likely to affect their studies and unless constant care and support are given. Due to their condition, they are likely to be faced by stigmatization which normally affects them psychologically (Bryant et al, 2008). They may also be disturbed by constant negative thoughts about themselves as they compare themselves to their counterparts who are able-bodied. This limits their ability to study thus leading to high levels of failure. Students with disabilities are also prone to absenteeism due to complications brought about by their condition so that they often lag behind in their studies (Donmoyer and Kos, 1993; Bruhn, 2003). As a result, their grades often end up being poor so that they fail to attain their diplomas.

                        Ethnic minority

            Even though the notion of ethnicity and racism is quickly fading away, there are still instances where students from various groups are disadvantaged. Students from African American, Asian and Hispanic groups have often endured poor relationships with their peers (Greene, 2001; Dei and Mazzuca, 1997). They may feel out of place in schools where only a few of them are present so that they do not easily identify with the school. This could lead to poor grades as these students are mostly affected psychologically. Truancy and absenteeism is common among students in this group and the result is poor academic performance (Kronick, 1990). It is common to find that the parents of these students do not possess high educational backgrounds and may not require high levels of academic excellence from their children either (Margarita, 1987). According to Kids Count (2008), more than one out of every five students have mothers with no more than twelve years of education. The Hispanic group is more affected with 58 percent of the students being born by low education achievers.

Dropout rates in Georgia

            There has been a rising concern among educators nationwide regarding the high number of high school dropout rates recorded each year. Based on the US census estimates given in the year 2003, Georgia was ranked position 45 in terms of the number of school dropouts (Kids Count, 2005). The same position was attained in the year 2008 (Kids Count, 2008). Overall, Georgia had 46,000 dropouts which accounted for 11 percent of youth aged 16 to 19 years in 2003. This rate was obtained by calculating the number of youths aged between 16 and 19 who were not enrolled in school yet they had not graduated from high school. This number is quite large compared to New Jersey which was ranked the best in the nation with only 4 percent. Earlier, a study conducted by National Centre for Education Statistics in 1998 indicated that only 54 percent of high school students graduated that year (NCES, 2001). This was the lowest graduation rate among the various states. Further, 44 percent of African Americans graduated while only 32 percent of Latinos graduated in the same year. In the year 2005, the number of people aged above 25 years and who had acquired a high school diploma was 82.8 percent. The high school graduation rate in Georgia improved from 65 percent to 75.4 percent between the year 2004 and 2007 (State of Georgia, 2008). In the year 2006/2007, the number of dropouts decreased by 2,241 (State of Georgia, 2008). Schargel, 2007) notes that although the number of high school dropouts has greatly reduced over the years, there still needs to be more improvement so as to reduce the dependency rates and crime rates that are often associated with high school dropouts. Piatek (2009) and Weber (1986) note that a high number of dropouts impacts on the economy besides affecting the individuals negatively. Rising school dropout rates have been blamed for the high number of individuals depending on State aid and the rising crime rates. The argument is that had they completed their education, they could have been in a better position to obtain jobs (Weber, 1986; Sagor, 2004; Neill, 2003). There is therefore need to identify which factors are likely to cause school dropouts so as to determine whether this can be contained by credit recovery program. The economy is affected because the number of dependants within families increase when youths drop out of school. They are not capable of getting proper jobs since their academic qualifications cannot allow them so that most of them have to depend on their parents for survival. This impacts on the family resources and disposable income thus reducing their economic welfare. Piatek (2009) notes that by reducing the number of high school dropouts by half, the government would gain extra revenue estimated at $45 billion.

                 Why students drop out of school

            Dropouts and At-Risk students are highly related. Research shows that most At-Risk students are likely to drop out of school before they graduate in order to get away from the humiliation of being termed a failure. They may lose hope of ever passing or fail to succumb to ridicule and segregation from their peers so that they often end up dropping out of school (Druian, 1996). For this reason, the factors associated with At-risk students are very closely related to dropout rates. Reginald who was a high school dropout gives his experience and notes that there are very many challenges that face students which leads to high levels of dropouts (Washington, 2006). He is now determined to help the youth from dropping out of school and leading a hopeless life. National statistics show that students who come from low income backgrounds are more likely to drop out of school by up to 2.4 times when compared to students from middle income backgrounds (Sagor, 2004). When the same group of students are compared to their counterparts from high income backgrounds, they are 10.5 times more likely to drop out of school.

            Social influences play a significant role in increasing the number of high school dropouts in Georgia. According to Sagor, 2004) almost half of the high school dropouts recorded per year are as a result of social factors. Valerie and Burkam (2000) note that girls are more prone to boys because they are less likely to bear prejudice made by others about them. The risk of early pregnancies also poses a major challenge on the girls thus leading them to drop out of school.

            Effects of dropping out of school

            Various studies have come up with suggestions on the effects that are likely to arise when students drop out of school without graduating. These effects do not only impact on the individual only but also on the economy and the community as a whole. According to Rumberger (2001), students who drop out of school are more likely suffer from depression and often turn to the use of drugs and other delinquent behavior such as crime (Quiroette and Sait-Denis, 1990). Crime is not only triggered by frustration and depression but by economic constraints as well when an individual realizes that he or she cannot earn a decent living because academic qualifications block him or her from obtaining good paying jobs (Radwaski, 1999). When students drop out of school, they become a burden to the State if not to their parents. They cannot earn enough money to support themselves and therefore have to rely on others to help them out. Those who are not lucky have to depend on the State aid for help (Murphy, Helen and Cool, 2002). It is from this realization that educators thought it wise to be socially responsible and help the students to graduate. The Georgia Credit Recovery Program was set up with the aim of helping such kinds of students to earn credit towards graduation (GA DOE, 2009). The recovery program is available to all students from public high schools in Georgia. With the introduction of the credit recovery program, they can now work towards achieving the grades required for them to graduate.

Georgia Credit Recovery Program

                 The credit recovery program is an online program where students who have previously failed to achieve the desired credits on courses required for high school graduation are offered a chance to retake the course without the need for a teacher (Georgia Department of Education, 2009). The program offers all the required courses necessary for students to graduate from any public high school. Instead of letting students drop out or fail to graduate due to poor grades, the program allows students to retake the course until he or she earns a grade required for graduation (GA DOE, 2007; Scarpa, 2008). It is for this reason that it is referred to as ‘recovering’ credits. The main objective of Georgia Credit Recovery is to help high school students to graduate on time without having to repeat grades. It also aims at reducing the number of high school dropouts by offering a solution for At-risk students. This program was introduced after consideration of the various ills that result when people do not have adequate academic qualifications such as state dependency, crime and depression among other challenges (GA DOE, 2007). The program offers complete courses and students are required to demonstrate complete knowledge of the course before being given a new grade. Using this program, students who have failed to attain the required grades for graduation do not have to worry about losing their future as they still have a chance to make up for it through the credit recovery program.

                 The program is a thorough exercise and it is aimed at ensuring that students grasp what is expected of them before they can take the test. The committee conferred with the role of overseeing the facilitation of the program ensures that the standards are strict and meet the ones required to maintain the highest level of academic integrity (GA DOE, 2007). For a student to participate in the online program, he or she must prove from the credits gained in the school exam that he or she has an understanding of the course and will only need to refine his knowledge so as to recover credit. The minimum grade required for participation is currently at 60 (GA DOE, 2007). This is to mean that the program is not meant for people who did not get the basics of the course or those who need close monitoring and one on one help. This is because the courses require self-motivated people who can learn on their own without the need of a facilitator and grasp the contents necessary to pass the online tests and exercises. Students are however given a facilitator or a proctor to monitor them. They check the progress of the students making sure that they log in to the site for the required number of times per week and also check whether all assignments and tests have been taken. Students are expected to report to these facilitators every week for a review and questions related to the course that they are taking.

                 Before the program can commence, the students must attend an orientation class together with their parents to learn the requirements of the course. Review quizzes and exercises are given at different levels after the participants cover specific topics in the course. The unit post test that accounts for 85 percent of the final grade is done before the final test and requires extensive reading of materials provided on the site and reviews of previously done quizzes and assignments (GA DOE, 2007). This program is flexible and admits students at any time of the year. They are however expected to finish each course within 22 weeks. For students who will be graduating in May, the course must be completed by 15th May while 30th July is for those looking forward towards moving to the next grade. Over 175 public schools now participate in the Georgia Credit Recovery Program. Private schools have not yet been incorporated in the study although plans for the same are underway.

Research objectives

            The main objective of this study is to find out whether the Georgia Credit Recovery Program is effective on At-risk students in an urban high school in Georgia. This will be achieved by the use of the following objectives.

To find out the number of At-risk students who have used the Georgia Credit Recovery Program and whether these students have graduated as a result of using the program.
To establish whether the dropout rates in Georgia have decreased with the introduction of the credit recovery program.
To establish whether the Georgia Credit Recovery system helps to improve high school At-risk students’ GPA.

Research questions

            This research aims at achieving the most valid information and data for presentation as an academic and social learning tool. In order to achieve the set objectives in the most plausible manner, the following research questions were designed to guide the research. They are the questions that will be answered by the end of this research so as to validate or invalidate them.

1.      Is there a relationship between student involvement in the credit recovery program and lower dropout rates?

2.      Is there a relationship between student involvement in the credit recovery program and improved GPA?

3.      Is there a relationship between student involvement in the credit recovery program and the students ability to graduate on time (receive their diploma)?

Purpose and Justification of the Study

            a) Purpose

            The introduction of the Georgia Credit Recovery Program whose main objective is to help At-risk students graduate was a welcome move when it was introduced in Georgia. The question that remains unanswered however is whether the program has indeed accomplished the mission for which it was set up. This paper seeks to analyze the working of the Georgia Credit Recovery Program to determine whether it has raised the number of At-Risk students who graduate each year. In essence it aims at establishing whether the recovery program helps At-risk students to attain their high school diplomas and graduate on time. From this paper, it will be possible to tell whether the GPA (Grade Point Average) for At-risk students is likely to improve with participation in the program. Finally, this study will reveal whether the dropout rates in Georgia high schools have reduced with the introduction of the Georgia Credit Recovery Program. At the end of the research, we should be able to establish whether the Georgia Credit Recovery Program is worth the investment and whether other states should adopt it to promote academic excellence among At-risk students.

            b) Justification

            The need to assist At-risk students in achieving academic excellence has been cited as one of the most effective ways of ensuring that high school students graduate on time and that dropout rates in schools are reduced. Through various programs, schools have tried to help their At-risk students to catch up with the rest of the students and thus help them in acquiring their high school diplomas. Most of the programs available are however expensive so that students from low economic backgrounds cannot afford these programs (Mendrinos, 1997). When Georgia Credit Recovery Program was introduced, it presented a perfect opportunity that would give every student a chance to improve his or her credits and thus qualify for graduation. There is need to study this program so as to establish whether it is effective in helping urban high school students in Georgia. It is important that the speed at which the program is being adopted be established. Whether participants are benefiting from is also an important thing to find out. Once this has been done, it will be possible to tell whether the investment was worthy or not. Based on the facts to be established in this study, policy makers and school administrators who are not using such systems can make informed choices as to the effectiveness of credit recovery programs on At-risk students.

Significance of the Study
This research is aimed at establishing the viability of the Georgia Credit Recovery Program to determine whether it has been effective on At-risk students in urban high schools in Georgia. Once the study is complete, a conclusion about this program will be made and recommendations given where appropriate. This will be of significant importance to policy makers in determining whether such programs should be introduced all over the nation for the purpose of reducing the number of people who have not graduated from high school as well as reduce the number of dropouts. When the number is reduced, the country will be assured of an effective workforce in future and delinquent behavior associated with joblessness will be contained.

            The research will be of great significance to the school education system whose aim is to ensure that students graduate and become useful citizens in the future. They will be able to weigh the advantages and limitations of the credit recovery system to determine whether they should put their At-risk students in the program so as to increase their probability of passing and eventually graduating. Given that other programs such as tuition schools are usually expensive for some students to afford, this could form a good way of helping students attain the desired credits without having to redo the course again in class. This will not only save time for the student but also reduce overcapacity which is common when students keep repeating classes.

            As the study on Georgia Credit Recovery is being conducted, numerous issues about At-risk students will be mentioned in the paper. This means that the paper will also serve the purpose of presenting At-risk students as people who can learn just like any other students if only they are given proper treatment and attention. The parents of At-risk students will also benefit highly from reading this paper. It will act as a proper guide for those considering the possibility of introducing their children to credit recovery programs in order to assist them in obtaining the required grades to graduate. At-Risk students will have a lot to learn from the study as it will determine whether there is hope for them to graduate even when they have failed in the previous tests and without having to drop out.

            Finally, this paper will form a reliable background for further study in the same area. Students wishing to do research which are related to At-risk students and credit recovery programs will especially find this paper useful. This is because the material contained in this paper is well researched and refined to meet the most professional as well as academic standards. This is to mean that people wishing to obtain knowledge about the topic of study can make use of this paper to obtain invaluable information.

Limitations and Delimitations

              In conducting this study, several limitations and delimitations faced the researcher as discussed in this section. To begin with, selecting the sample was a difficult task given that the Georgia Credit Recovery Program covers all the 87 school districts in Georgia. Further, over 175 schools are currently participating in the program which means the area covered was quite large. As a result, the research used convenient sampling only interviewing officers who were closest to the researcher’s home area. Questionnaires were sent by post and therefore could cover a large sample across Georgia. In determining whether students have benefited from the Georgia Credit Recovery Program, the researcher needed to interview former beneficiaries of the program. The problem however is that most of them have already left Georgia in search of employment elsewhere so that they could not be reached for comment. The research therefore had to rely on the beneficiaries who were available. The researcher also had to visit various offices and consult with officials facilitating the Georgia Credit Recovery Program in various schools and at Georgia Department of Education in order to get the background, objectives and the success of the program. The persons involved are however have very busy schedules such that getting an appointment was quite difficult. Due to such constraints, information gathered in the study was limited.

              Time and resources were a constraint to the effectiveness of the study. To begin with, the researcher only had five months to perform the research and come up a conclusive study. Had there been more time, a more refined research could have been conducted hence improving the quality of the study.  Resources in terms of finances were limited and the money required to print the questionnaires, send questionnaires and travel to the respondents’ homes to get information limited the ability of the researcher to maximize on the number of questionnaires given. Finally, there is stigma associated with being an At-Risk student more so where the problems lies in difficulty with academics. For this reason, intended respondents sometimes shied away while others denied having used the program. This was limiting to the amount of information that could be obtained for by research.

Definitions of terms

At-risk students – This term is used to refer to students whose likelihood of failing                               academically is high. Several reasons including disability, academic                                  disadvantage, ethnic minority background and poor socioeconomic status                       among others are often associated with this condition.

Credit Recovery Program – This is a program designed to assist at risk students to cover                     courses required for graduation and for which the student was previously                         unsuccessful.

GPA (Grade point average) – This is a grading system where grade points scored are                          divided by the number of credit hours that the student has attempted.

Dropouts – These are students who leave school without obtaining the qualification required                 for a particular course.

Overview of the study

            All through the study, the researcher will be aiming at meeting the set objectives and answering the research questions set. Thorough studies into the concept of At-risk students and the disadvantages that they face academically will be studied. Besides this, the study will identify what needs to be done in order to help these students make the best out of their academic life. It is well understood that special programs form a good strategy for assisting At-risk students. Various methods and programs will therefore be addressed before the Georgia Credit Recovery Program which is the major focus of the study is addressed. The study will involve the use of questionnaires which will be distributed among the beneficiaries of the program. These questionnaires will be filled with details of the respondents’ experiences with the Georgia Credit Recovery Program. From the responses obtained, the researcher will be in a position to gauge the effectiveness of the program. Besides questionnaires sent to beneficiaries of the credit recovery program, officials of the program will be contacted so as to get important details such as the progress of the program, the number of beneficiaries recorded so far and how many have succeeded to graduate among other official information. Analysis of the data will help in coming up with conclusive study findings which can be used to support the research questions of to invalidate them.

            A review of works done by others in the same area and related areas will form the basis of the study. This is because no particular research can be done without referring to what has been researched by others and what theories surround the particular study. The next section of the paper will therefore consist of a literature review meant to further understand the theory behind the topic.

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