Students in the Sacramento City Unified School District need 225 credits to graduate high school and 180 to start their senior year. Some have far fewer than that.
"These are the kids who are behind the eight ball," said David Rodriguez, director, Student Hearing and Placement Department for the district. "These kids, for the most part, represent the achievement gap in our district."
The district is working to close that gap using Aventa Learning by K12, a credit recovery system that allows students to take online courses to make up classes needed to graduate.
Aventa Learning by K12 provides curriculum for Sacramento Accelerated Academy, which has 240 students—30 students per class, four classes per 4-hour session, two sessions per day. The academy is one of several alternatives to traditional education in the 44,000-student district.
"We wanted a preventative approach to identify students earlier in their high school career, rather than waiting until they're severely credit-deficient and on the verge of dropping out," said Brandon Yung, coordinator III, Student Hearing and Placement.
The department considers students for the academy based on several factors, including referrals from the students themselves or their high school teachers, counselors or administrators.
At the academy, students take online courses in a teacher-led computer lab, where they also can access online help via the Internet or telephone. Each credit recovery course is based on approximately 60 hours of work and students having prior knowledge of the subject matter. Students can continue working after regular school hours if they have access to a computer and Internet.
"This program offers a lot of components we were looking for," Yung said. "It appeals to English-language learners; it appeals to students with certain learning disabilities. It also touches on a variety of teaching strategies, as opposed to all text-based reading and comprehension work."
The program also has "adaptive release," which allows students who have already taken a class to test out of online sections they have mastered. This helps students earn credits and return to their home high school more quickly.
"Most kids want to be at a regular high school," Rodriguez said. "They want the social interaction and the traditional high school experience." Aventa includes structured study guides that help students learn to take effective notes. The program also uses vocabulary and short-answer essays to further advance a student's skills.
"Teachers work closely with the students," Yung said. "They build relationships, earn the students' trust and work with them on the fundamentals of responsibility, ownership, commitment, so hopefully we're sending them back to their home high school in good shape."
Aventa representatives trained academy teachers, who embraced the online program from the start, Rodriguez said. "Teachers believe in this program. It gives kids hope. It gives them a sense of 'I can do this,' a sense of accomplishment. All things are not lost. They're not going to drop out. They're actually going to receive their high school diploma."
The Sacramento program has been so successful—2,755 courses were passed at the academy since September 2010—it is being expanded by another class of 30 students. "Every student has a story," Yung said. "With this program, more than any other I've seen, the kids get a sense of forward progress, and they've never experienced that before.
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