School District 202 has boosted a less-than-satisfactory graduation rate of 87.5 percent during the 2008-09 school year to 92.5 percent last year through the use of a computer-generated credit-recovery system that “provides an opportunity for students to take a variety of courses and earn credits in a condensed amount of time through the mastery learning approach,” according to a report to the School Board on March 14.

This online system, provided by the APEX Corporation, is one of several options available to Evanston Township High School students who have failed at more traditional classroom settings to “recover” course credit.

Seventy-three of the 100 students who were “off-track” for timely graduation at the beginning of the 2009-10 school year were referred to a credit-recovery option. Dr. Paula Insley Miller, associate principal for student services reported that that 55 of these students graduated from high school by “utilizing one of the credit-recovery options at ETHS.” Most of the students referred for credit recovery are seniors, she said.

Students who are referred for this type of credit recovery have typically failed a required course twice and “have not responded positively to existing supports,” administrators said.

Oscar Hawthorne, assistant superintendent/principal, characterized the program as a “Tier 3 support” under the federally mandated Response to Intervention System. “It’s very individualized … a defined profile,” he said, adding that the program is “not open to all students.” He said that the approach provided an alternative to off-campus placement, which is significantly more expensive for the District and also removes the student from the building, which is not always to their advantage.

Board member Martha Burns asked if students could access the system at home as well as at school. Dr. Miller assured her they could, and that that sort of access was necessary for the students to do homework. She also said the program was aligned with the District’s curriculum and that department heads had reviewed the materials to confirm that.

Board members Deborah Graham and Gretchen Livingston both suggested that, while such a program was certainly useful for students in danger of not graduating, the District should also be considering how such technology could be used to provide opportunities for high-achieving students. “We need to continue to look at this for students who have exhausted what we have have to offer in content areas. I hope we’re going to pay attention to it,” said Ms. Livingston.

For the current school year, Dr. Miller said the District has expanded the APEX course option to teen mothers attending Family Focus. “We also have included more special education students. Recently, another online program was added to provide more options to students who require more academic support, such as our struggling readers. Currently, we are accommodating 98 students using one of the several options offered,” she said.