Here is the summary of a study sponsored by the Department of Education and distributed as part of the DoE’s daily newsletter What’s New: Institute of Education Sciences for U.S. Department of Education.
Comparing Success Rates for General and Credit Recovery Courses Online and Face to Face: Results for Florida High School Courses
This report describes the results of a REL Southeast study comparing student success in online credit recovery and general courses taken online compared to traditional face-to-face courses. Credit recovery occurs when a student fails a course and then retakes the same course to earn high school credit. This research question was motivated by the high use of online learning in the Southeast, particularly as a method to help students engage in credit recovery. The data for this study covered all high school courses taken between 2007/08 and 2010/11 in Florida (excluding Driver’s and Physical Education). The study compares the likelihood of a student earning a C or better in an online course as compared to a face-to-face course. Comparisons for both general and online courses include those courses taken for the first time and credit recovery courses. The results show that the likelihood of a student earning a grade of C or better was higher when a course was taken online than when taken face-to-face, both for general courses and credit recovery courses. Most subgroups of students also had higher likelihood of success in online courses compared to face-to-face courses, except that English language learners showed no difference in outcomes when taking credit recovery courses online. However, it is not possible to determine whether these consistent differences in course outcomes are attributable to greater student learning, other factors such as differences in student characteristics, or differences in grading standards.
This study, of course, has no absolutely no real value if the results do not include an identification of the reason(s) for the differences in student performance in on-site and online courses.
A cynic could assert—without anyone being able to contradict the assertion—that the differences in student performance are most likely attributable to differences in grading standards. In fact, one might assert that until differences in grading standards are eliminated as the primary reason for the differences in student performance, one should assume that differences in grading standards are the primary reason.
But one has to read through the entirety of the summary to get to the acknowledgement that no reasons for the differences in student performance have been identified.
And one can assume that the real point of publicizing the study—if not of the study itself—is to promote the value of online courses—regardless of whether they actually have any of the comparative value that is being suggested by the headlines.