North High credit recovery investigation says poor adult oversight to blame for cheating

An investigation into allegations of cheating within the credit recovery program at North High School found that while the program's online classes were "challenging," staff members did not sufficiently monitor the students enrolled.

"It is discouraging when adult decisions jeopardize opportunities for students," the report says.

The investigation was prompted by concerns raised in May in the Westword cover story "Passing on Education."

Since 2008, North has had a credit recovery program, which allows students who fail courses to retake them online. In 2008, just 46 percent of North's seniors graduated. In 2010, that number jumped to 64 percent. Former North staffers told Westword that seniors in the credit recovery program were allowed to cheat on computer-generated tests in order to graduate and that they were encouraged and even helped by an administration desperate to improve graduation rates.

In June, Denver Public Schools asked the Colorado Department of Education to investigate North's credit recovery program. The results of that investigation -- which was done by Jill Martin, principal of Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs and a veteran of implementing credit recovery programs -- were released Friday afternoon.

A report by Martin notes that while Apex Learning, the program used by North, is rigorous, "in some cases, monitoring by assigned personnel was lax." For instance, she writes, "some procedures, such as requiring demonstration of mastery on unit tests, etc. were not followed" -- a concern raised in Westword's story. Instead, students were allowed to skip the unit tests and go straight to the final exam.

As one North teacher told Westword, that's analogous to allowing a student to ditch class all year and then show up for the final and pass the class. "The students are responsible for almost nothing," said the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous.

In her report, Martin also noted that there were "a few instances in which students earned a 70 percent or 71 percent on the culminating exam but still received credit despite the required 80 percent minimum score" -- which was the rule for all credit recovery courses.

"Concerns that some seniors with attendance problems were allowed to enroll in and take the final tests in certain credit recovery courses very close to graduation were confirmed," Martin wrote. Former North staffers told Westword that as graduation approached, administrators allowed several students to simply take final exams in credit recovery.

The most egregious example, one staffer said, was a student who did zero minutes of coursework in an online British Literature course but passed the final with an 80 percent. After taking the test, the student told him the exam had been about "something British. I just wrote anything." The student graduated.

Martin also reports that North administrators ignored DPS policy and simply replaced students' failing grades with passing credit recovery scores. The policy states that "recovered course will be recorded as a new course."

But things at North should improve, Martin concludes. "The adults responsible for the problems associated with the North credit recovery program have been dealt with," she writes.

"The plan for credit recovery at North this year is sound," Martin adds. That plan includes hiring a certified teacher to oversee the program. But at the time Martin visited the school, that teacher had not yet been hired.

North plans to institute other safeguards as well, Martin writes. "Quizzes, tests and final exams will be locked and only the teacher will be able to open these, and tests and exams will be taken only at school in a monitored setting," she writes. "A written final in addition to the online exam will be added for all courses except math."

We've left messages for Martin and for Antwan Wilson, assistant superintendent for post-secondary readiness at DPS, who defended the program to Westword in May. We'll update this post when we hear back.

More from our Education archives: "North High: How many seniors graduated from school that used credit recovery courses?"

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar