Federal

Ed. Dept. Releases Guide for Evaluating Online Learning

By Andrew Trotter — July 02, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Department of Education today released its first guide to the evaluation of online-learning programs in K-12 education.

The report is designed to help school leaders gauge the effectiveness of online education, as its use grows rapidly across the United States.

“While online-learning programs that deliver courses have been around for about a decade, this report is the first to fully address the issues in evaluating online programs in K-12 education,” said Susan D. Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of the North American Council for Online Learning, or NACOL, which released its own standards for online programs earlier this year. (“Voluntary Online-Teaching Standards Come Amid Concerns Over Quality,” March 5, 2008)

School districts are turning to online courses, complete grade-level and degree-granting programs, and instructional resources to address missions ranging from Advanced Placement or specialized instruction, to “credit recovery” and alternative education, to providing supplementary resources to teachers and students in regular classrooms. Individual students and private and charter schools are also procuring online learning, often with public funding.

But evaluation methods have lagged far behind the swift growth, varied application, and complex nature of online learning.

“Online [education] adds a number of unique elements—in some cases, we need to build new instruments,” said Timothy J. Magner, the director of the Education Department’s office of technology.

Mr. Magner was here attending the National Educational Computing Conference, where he was to speak about evaluation issues today as part of a panel discussing the report.

Different Evaluations Needed

He noted, for example, that an online course that has students at many different locations raises the question of what are the best types of data collection for measuring a program’s performance. Using online surveys for a widely dispersed population might be most convenient, but it may not be accurate, because technology and supervision and other conditions might vary widely as well; site visits might even be necessary sometimes.

The diverse goals of online instruction also call for different kinds of evaluations, Mr. Magner said.

The contractor that prepared the report, WestEd Inc., based in San Francisco, analyzed seven recent evaluations that were seen to be models of the types of studies needed for online programs and instructional resources. The evaluations were of Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, & Students Statewide Distance Learning; Algebra 1 Online; the Appleton eSchool; the Arizona Virtual Academy; the Chicago Public Schools Virtual Academy; Digital Learning Commons; and Thinkport.

Descriptions and lessons from those evaluations form the heart of the 68-page report.

“The standards for evaluating online resources are different than the more comprehensive criteria that is needed to evaluate an online program, such as a virtual school within a state or district that offers a full course and provides a highly qualified teacher through online teaching,” said Ms. Patrick, who was Mr. Magner’s predecessor as the adviser on educational technology to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

Ms. Patrick of NACOL, based in Vienna, Va., said she made suggestions based on a draft of the report, urging the department to separate the evaluation issues pertaining to complete online courses and online supplementary resources.

She said the report shows that the Education Department “is focused on research to inform practice, and supports the growth of the important innovation of online learning in K-12 schools.” She added that she hopes the department will publish the evaluation instruments used in the research, to make the report “scalable” for other school districts.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal California, Florida, and Other States Waiting on Green Light for Their COVID Relief Plans
The list of states with Ed. Dept. approval for their American Rescue Plan blueprints is growing steadily, but two big states aren't on it.
4 min read
Image shows an illustration of money providing relief against coronavirus.
DigitalVision Vectors/iStock/Getty
Federal What Is a School Shooting? Members of Congress Seek a Federal Definition, Reliable Data
A new bill would direct federal departments to track data related to school shootings, a term for which there is no federal definition.
Daniela Altimari, Hartford Courant
4 min read
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021. Newport News police Chief Steve Drew said two students were shot and taken to the hospital and neither injury was thought to be life-threatening. The chief said authorities believe the suspect and victims knew one another but did not provide details.
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021.
John C. Clark/AP Photo
Federal Is the Justice Dept. Silencing Parents or Stepping Up to Protect Educators?
Merrick Garland's move to use the FBI to help protect school officials from violence and harassment has drawn anger and praise.
5 min read
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Tom Williams/Pool via AP
Federal Don't Use Federal COVID Aid to Undermine School Mask Rules, U.S. Treasury Tells Governor
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey violated the intent of COVID aid programs by using them to discourage school mask mandates, an agency letter says.
2 min read
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Nov. 30, 2020. A program announced by Arizona's Republican governor last month to give private school vouchers to students whose parents object to school mask requirements has seen a surge of applications, with twice as many either completed or started than can be funded with the $10 million in federal coronavirus relief cash he earmarked for the program.
A program announced by Arizona's Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in September earmarks federal money to give private school vouchers to students whose parents object to public school mask requirements.
Ross D. Franklin/AP