By: Molly Pileggi, Alyn Turner, Lindsey Liu, and Jason Fontana
November 2020



Nationally, credit recovery has been used as a strategy to encourage and enable students to re-take previously failed courses needed to graduate. The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) offers both in-person and online options for recovering failed or missing credits required for graduation. SDP high school students are eligible for credit recovery if they failed a course that would have accrued a credit in a core subject area of math, English, science, or social studies. This study provides a snapshot of the district’s school-year credit recovery utilization—including eligibility, enrollment, and completion—using newly available data for high school students in traditional high schools who entered the 2018–19 school year with a record of one or more failed courses.


Key Findings

  • Credit recovery needs in the district are high: One-quarter of SDP high school students—and one in three students in Grade 10—were eligible to recover credit in a core course at the end of the 2017–18 school year.

  • Of the students eligible for credit recovery, over half were eligible for more than one course. Nearly a quarter were eligible to recover four or more courses (N=2,011), meaning they had effectively fallen an entire year behind.

  • During the 2018–19 school year, about half of eligible students attempted to recover at least one credit. Most students who enrolled in credit recovery enrolled in only one course, even if they were eligible for multiple courses.

  • Students completed a large majority of courses attempted (nearly 80%). However, only half of the completed course attempts resulted in a passing grade.

  • There are large differences in credit recovery eligibility and pass rates across student subgroups, but not for enrollment in credit recovery, suggesting inequality in the supports for academic success rather than access to credit recovery options.

Policy and Implications

  • In SDP’s traditional high school, many students need significantly more support to succeed in core courses. The high percentage of students in traditional schools that fail one or more core courses, coupled with low credit recovery enrollment and pass rates, suggest prevention would be more effective than remediation in its current form.

  • Pass rates were very low (37%) for students using web-based recovery, e.g., Edgenuity. While this is not definitive evidence of lack of effectiveness, the research base for online credit recovery providers should be reviewed and an impact study conducted to assess what is and is not working and for whom.

  • This report can be used to examine the bright spots in credit recovery utilization to see if and how successes might be scaled. Models of strong access to credit recovery in settings with high need, for example, might be investigated at Southern High and Strawberry Mansion, where over half of the students were eligible for credit recovery and credit recovery course enrollment was over 70%. Efforts for improving pass rates might be modeled by Robeson, Workshop School, and Motivation High School, where between 75%–100% of students who enrolled in credit recovery successfully recovered credits.