Summer School: Enrichment or Credit Recovery?

Andrew Passinger
Andrew Passinger
Middle-Senior High School Assistant Principal/Pandemic Coordinator; M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, Gifted Certification
“Summer School” written on a green sign outside.

As schools transition into summertime programming, there are always significant decisions to be made about summer school, credit recovery, learning gaps, and enrichment courses, to name a few. Depending on the administrative philosophies, schools may focus on enrichment as an opportunity for students. And there are numerous ways in which a school district can build its summer curriculum based on changing mission statements.

What is Enrichment in School?

Typically, enrichment during summer schooling pertains to remediation. These remedial programs emphasize core content for students who had difficulty reaching proficiency/mastery in a particular course. These courses are, of course, created with an acceleration concept in mind. That is, during a condensed period of time, students must achieve levels that will allow them to be promoted from current grades to the next grades. They are enriching, or building upon, those skills they presented as basic or possibly below basic.

Sometimes, they are presented in the forms of camps during the summer for students to enhance what they already learned from the year. It helps prevent the summer loss students experience over the lengthy summer break.

Sometimes enrichment can occur through a collaborative effort of local universities, depending on the geography, though the virtual advances of technology can help rural areas. They can offer true enrichment courses that enhance the depth of understanding from initial topics learned during the school year. Students may even be able to earn credits toward post-secondary education.

What is Credit Recovery?

The United States Department of Education defines credit recovery as “a strategy that encourages at-risk students to re-take a previously failed course required for high school graduation and earn credit if the student successfully completes the course requirements.”

Credit recovery concentrates on students who are simply looking to recover a failed course, rather than get enrichment for content. While they will complete the content necessary to get the credit, it does not target those skills that were not proficient, but instead has the student work through pre-established content. This ultimately prevents a student from falling further behind in high school credits, thus still giving them a “chance” to continue with their graduation cohort.

Which Students Benefit Most from Enrichment?

There is no doubt that younger students will benefit from enrichment more than the traditional concept of summer school and credit recovery. Because the foundational elements of content (notice it isn’t just the core content but includes technology, arts, etc.) are so integral in the elementary and middle-school ages, the differentiation in instruction works quite well. Educators can prepare objectives that enhance those basic skills from the previous year.

This approach is supported by the idea that most curricula are built according to one pathway during the year with differentiation extending the content in the classroom, as opposed to high school where several pathways exist based on skill sets. So, especially in the elementary and middle school grades, differentiation is of the utmost value. These foundational skills are improved through enrichment, which creates a much stronger opportunity for students to be successful during their high school years.

Which Students Benefit Most from Credit Recovery?

The credit recovery process is most effective for some middle school students and definitely for high school students. Since credit recovery is more about simply getting the credit, not as much emphasis is placed on the lack of proficiency in skills but more on the fact that the course was failed. It does not mean that teachers still shouldn’t care for the foundational elements of the course; for example, any math class, specifically Algebra 1, because it is building block-oriented should still reach for proficiency or mastery status before completion of the credit recovery. Most of the time, these courses may have moved beyond foundational skills and focus on depth or areas outside of a general curriculum.

Depending on the design of the middle school program, students in eighth grade would benefit from credit recovery in order to transition into the high school. Some middle schools do not keep track of credits, thus eliminating the need for any form of recovery, in those cases.

What Constitutes an Effective Summer School Program?

No matter which direction a school aims, whether with credit recovery or enrichment, several characteristics will make for an effective summer program.

Engagement is one of the most important aspects to consider when developing a program. Students taking these programs do not often represent the highest levels of motivation, so the activities and ideas must be engaging and relevant (meaningful) for them. Rigor should be included at the appropriate levels, but it should not outpace the idea that students want to learn and want to have fun doing so.

Relationships are paramount to student learning. Summer school programs can fail if teachers are simply present for the financial aspects. They must be the cheerleaders for this group of students, as well as veteran enough to identify the gaps in non-proficiency and adjust instruction and assessment accordingly. Their goal is to get these students to enjoy learning in order to support their unskilled areas.

Finally, fostering a comprehensive collection of social, emotional, and physical components will strengthen any summer school program. Students want a positive atmosphere, a desire to feel safe, will best learn on full stomachs, and will accept any support when these areas are fulfilled. They are still in the formative stages of development and teachers have the opportunity to direct them in a positive direction.

Depending on the how school districts want to focus their summer school programs and the age levels with which they are working, they have some choices to make. Is credit recovery for students the goal or is it building on foundational skills that students will need in order to be successful in their next educational stages?

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