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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
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
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

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 What’s Behind the Push for a $60K Base Teacher Salary
When reintroduced in Congress, a bill to raise teacher salaries will include money to account for regional cost differences.
5 min read
Teachers from Seattle Public Schools picket outside Roosevelt High School on what was supposed to be the first day of classes, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Seattle. The first day of classes at Seattle Public Schools was cancelled and teachers are on strike over issues that include pay, mental health support, and staffing ratios for special education and multilingual students.
Teachers from Seattle Public Schools picket outside Roosevelt High School on what was supposed to be the first day of classes, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Seattle. The first day of classes at Seattle Public Schools was cancelled and teachers are on strike over issues that include pay, mental health support, and staffing ratios for special education and multilingual students.
Jason Redmond/AP
Federal Teachers Shouldn't Have to Drive Ubers on the Side, Education Secretary Says
In a speech on priorities for the year, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said teachers should be paid competitive salaries.
5 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivers a speech during the “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2023.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivers a speech during the “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2023.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Federal A Chaotic Start to a New Congress: What Educators Need to Know
A new slate of lawmakers will have the chance to influence federal education policy in the 118th Congress.
4 min read
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks on the House floor after the first vote for House Speaker when he did not receive enough votes to be elected during opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Jan 3, 2023, in Washington.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 3 following the first round of voting for House Speaker. McCarthy fell short of enough votes to be elected speaker in three rounds of voting on opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal Historic Changes to Title IX and School Safety Funding: How 2022 Shaped K-12 Policy
Federal lawmakers sought to make Title IX more inclusive, respond to school shootings, and crack down on corrupt charter schools.
6 min read
Revelers march down Fifth Avenue during the annual NYC Pride March, Sunday, June 26, 2022, in New York.
Revelers march down Fifth Avenue during New York City's annual Pride March in June. Proposed changes to Title IX would explicitly protect students from discrimination based on their gender identity or sexuality.
Mary Altaffer/AP