New credit recovery program increases rigor for students

After utilizing the credit recovery program Apex for nearly ten years, the Novato Unified School District switched to Cyber High at the start of the 2019-20 school year.

Credit recovery teacher Mark Whitburn estimates that 120 students are currently recovering credit at San Marin. Under the Apex system, NUSD did not receive enough licenses to cover all credit-deficient students between each of its schools. Cyber High offers unlimited licenses and teacher interventions, which formed the basis for the transition.

“We haven’t done this yet, but teachers have the ability as a student is currently failing a class to go into Cyber High— the real classroom teacher, not the virtual one,” Counselor Laura Triantafyllos said. “They can identify what standards students haven’t met in Cyber High so they can hopefully pass the class the first time.”

Cyber High’s curriculum and course offerings differ from those of Apex. Triantafyllos noted that English courses are more challenging on Cyber High.

“You’re assigned books,” Triantafyllos said. “And you have to write essays. I would call that more rigorous as opposed to Apex, where books were not assigned.”

Whitburn said that this increase in rigor presents challenges for students who take grade-level classes while simultaneously recovering credit.

“If you didn’t pass sophomore semester of English, and now you’re a junior, you’ve not only got your junior books to read for your regular class, you also have your sophomore books to read again,” Whitburn said. “And it’s different books than what you may have had here for sophomore year. So if you’re not a good reader, which unfortunately is a reason for some kids not passing in the first place, now you’ve got to read more, which makes it more difficult to pass.”

Cyber High offers a few English and history courses in Spanish, which Whitburn said is progress compared to Apex, which offered none, but is still “not enough.” Cyber High provides fewer electives than Apex and does not offer foreign language courses.

“[In Cyber High], you actually have to work a lot more for your grade, so I think that’s really good for the student who needs to improve their grade,” Whitburn said. “Whereas Apex, we’re just trying to get you to get your credit so you can graduate.”

Staff members have noticed that students who tend to fail their classes prefer to wait and recover credit on Apex because it is less challenging than the course itself.

“That’s been a problem for years,” Triantafyllos said. “I know students that could get through an English Apex class in just a very few days. So, [Cyber High] is more rigorous. And hopefully we’ll see that sort of thing won’t be happening anymore.”

However, the increased rigor may garner counteracting results; at the end of the first semester of Cyber High, only two students finished the course they were enrolled in.

San Marin used to offer the Plus Program, where credit deficient juniors and seniors alternated blocks of English and history with blocks of math and science for the first three periods of the day, and then recovered credit through Apex for one or two class periods depending on their personal needs.

Currently, there is no formal credit recovery program, but both Triantafyllos and Whitburn stressed that providing one is necessary. San Marin will offer one next school year.

“I was a regular teacher here—we had a class for credit recovery, and I saw the kids on a daily basis,” Whitburn said. “And if you’re going to slack off, it was easy for me to stop you from slacking off. They might not enjoy that on a weekly basis, but they’ll appreciate it when the semester is over, and they get their diploma, or they’re going to a four year school.”

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