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No “blatant cheating” in credit recovery

An outside examination of the credit recovery program at Denver’s North High School finds fault with the past operations but concludes that personnel changes are putting the program back on track.

The report by consultant Jill Martin, principal of Pine Creek High School in the Academy 20 School District north of Colorado Springs, was prepared at the request of the Colorado Department of Education.

DPS asked the state for a review after concerns were brought to light during the 2009-10 school year. CDE invited Martin to do the review. The district has also done an internal review of the program, which uses an online provider called APEX.

“A history of blatant cheating was not revealed,” Martin wrote in her report. “However, the investigation by DPS officials determined that in some cases monitoring by assigned personnel was lax.”

Problems identified in Martin’s report include:

  • Some students received course credits with APEX test scores of 70 or 71 percent when a minimum score of 80 percent was required.
  • Some seniors were allowed to enroll in and take final tests for credit recovery courses when they should have been barred because of inadequate attendance.
  • North transcripts showed that original failing grades for courses had been replaced with new grades earned through credit recovery. DPS procedures call for the original grade to remain on a transcript, with the recovery grade recorded as a new course.

DPS started a credit recovery program in 2006, permitting students who had failed such core courses as literature or geometry to make up the credits in a supervised computer lab. North showed increased graduation rates because of the program, but staff members alerted the district to concerns that inadequate oversight was allowing too many students to gain credits – and earn diplomas – by taking shortcuts and not actually learning anything.

CDE statistics show North’s on-time graduation rate for 2010 was 64 percent; the district rate was 52 percent.

Martin’s report points out that online learning programs too often include very low levels of teacher involvement and require little of students. The APEX program is not one of them, she concluded but wrote, “The level of ‘involvement’ in the credit recovery program at North was not sufficient to ensure that the program was implemented with fidelity.”

In an interview Monday, Martin said, “Every weakness I found could be traced back to an adult decision that didn’t comply with the safeguards and the procedures that are in place.

“This is no different from any classroom, where you’re depending on an adult to do a job, but in this case the adults got carried away with the part of their job that involved helping kids, but they cut corners or they didn’t comply with all the procures, which in the long run doesn’t help the kids. It was not a deliberate undermining of the program.”

Martin said she is confident that every issue she uncovered has been addressed by personnel changes at North.

Denver North High School

Denver North High School

DPS Assistant Superintendent Antwan Wilson said he was pleased with Martin’s findings.

“I thought the report captured what we found exactly,” said Wilson.

“A lack of oversight would have had to happen in order to have some of the challenges we had,” he added. “And that’s an adult decision. If the rules are such that a student is supposed to have a record of attendance and so forth at the school and doesn’t, but then takes a test and receives a full credit for the class, that’s something that an adult has decided but that is not the way the program was designed.”

Wilson pointed to new leadership at North, where Nicole Veltze is in her first year as principal, as key to fixing the schools’ credit recovery program. A new supervisor for the program has also been hired.

“I don’t want to make it sound like the assistant principals and (former) principal were the whole issue, but it was certainly one of the things we wanted to address,” he said.

Wilson said some form of credit recovery is available at most DPS high schools.