School & District Management Opinion

Better Online Schools & Learning Options

By Tom Vander Ark — October 23, 2012 3 min read
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Virtual schools and online courses work better for some kids than others. Some of variance is provider based; some of it is student based. In most cases,
there is not very good data on students or providers. A new report explained, “Most state accountability and data systems can’t easily provide the
information about individual student growth on mastery outcomes that is necessary to produce the answer.”

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning released the report today " Measuring Quality From Inputs to Outcomes” that lays out a frame work for
solving the quality problem.

The standards and accountability policy framework in place in most states is ill suited to judge and manage a dynamic, multi-provider, competency-based
online and blended learning system. “We need measures that show actual student learning outcomes--and we must realize that most states and schools are using
a flawed assessment system that doesn’t necessarily measure entry and exit knowledge across the entire K-12 curriculum,” the authors said.

The report identifies multiple outcomes-based measures that should be used in evaluating schools quality:

  • Proficiency

  • Individual student growth

  • Graduation rate

  • College and career readiness; and

  • Closing the achievement gap.

Using these metrics can help “learning practitioners and policy makers differentiate between high- and low-quality options for students.” said the report.

Recommendations for full-time online schools

· Multiple measures of student outcomes should be in place.

· Individual student performance should be measured and reported transparently based on standards.

· Growth models should be based on the growth of individual students over time, not on cohorts.

· Untested subjects and grade levels must be assessed with validating assessments that can measure both proficiency and growth.

· Online school data should be disaggregated separately from other schools or districts to assure accurate data.

· Online schools must be provided student performance data and prior student records on academic history from the school the student previously attended,
in a timely manner.

· Data systems must be upgraded and better aligned to meet the challenge of collecting, reporting, and passing data between schools and the state.

· Student fidelity toward academic goals, and reasons for mobility, must be addressed in data systems and accountability ratings.

Online courses.
Student choice of online courses from multiple providers is becoming more common. Outcomes-based quality assurance for online courses should include
transparent data collection of multiple measures including proficiency and growth. This suggests the need for common assessments across most course
subjects and implementing end-of-course exams for individual online courses.

Twenty-nine states do not have full time online schools. The report suggests that when these states authorize full time online schools they have a
clean-slate opportunity to require a new multiple-measures approach and a new level of data transparency.

On choice to the course, the report recommends a course a state clearinghouse--a good idea that could easily become a bureaucratic barrier.

The report concludes with a list of perverse incentives to be avoided. For example, there are currently disincentives in many states to enroll students who
are over-aged and under-credited. New policies should create incentives not disincentives to serve under-served populations.

The thoughtful addition of online options in a handful of states could serve as a national model of quality if they follow the guidelines outlined in this

Keeping Pace
, the annual state-by-state review of online and blended learning, was also released by the Evergreen Education Group at the iNACOL conference. This year’s
report included a Planning for Quality section that offered guidance to leaders who are starting and growing online and blended programs.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.