Distance Learning

Virtual School Operator Taps Data for Annual Academic Results

As public education in this country struggles to figure out the optimal way to use data to improve student learning, a for-profit company that delivers online K-12 courses and manages virtual schools has released its annual "academic report," and the data suggests it appears to be holding its own.

According to K12, in those schools it manages, students' performance in reading has dropped incrementally (one percent) for grades 3-8 and performance in math has risen by three percent. Following national trends, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch tend to underperform those who aren't eligible.

Managed programs encompass those schools where K12 provides substantially all of the management, technology and academic support services as well as curriculum and learning and instructional services.

According to the report, the improvement in math is "likely the result of K12's recent emphasis on effective...interventions for students who enroll performing below grade level, as well as a focused effort across all K12 schools to improve [math] instruction."

The report noted that "persistence continues to be a key factor to success." Students who stay in a K12 school longer, "achieve higher percentages at or above proficiency, while students who stay the least amount of time show lower percentages achieving proficiency." For grades 3-8 students enrolled three or more years achieve higher percentages at or above proficiency: 14 percentage points higher in reading and 19 percentage points higher in math.

At the high school level, 81 percent of ninth graders who took end-of-course assessments in English 1 scored at or above proficiency. For algebra, 36 percent of ninth graders scored at or above proficiency. Of tenth graders with reported scores for a high school graduation test in reading, three-quarters of students scored at or above proficiency. Among those who took high school graduation tests in math, 62 percent scored at or above proficiency.

The report tallies data from 13 high schools that administer end-of-course testing and 35 high schools with graduation tests. The variation depends on state regulations; about half of states use the high school graduation tests; others use end-of-course assessments.

The latest results cover the 2013-2014 school year and include data from the 68 individual public school and two private school programs under management by K12.

"The latest academic data shows that our efforts toward improving student performance, empowering teachers, and providing the tools necessary for success are beginning to pay off. While we acknowledge there is still more work to be done to achieve higher proficiency for all students, these numbers indicate we're on the right track," said Mary Gifford, senior vice president of education and policy.

She added that K12 is using diagnostic data to "shape" personalized learning for each student. The company is also seeking to roll out programs that are showing evidence of positive results in student mentoring and family support for learning. "One example is the Family Academic Support Team (FAST) that provides counseling on how to develop behaviors that support learning. It closely monitors student progress to ensure they get back on track as soon as possible," she said in a prepared statement.

Other programs referenced in the report include "data-driven instruction and teacher mentoring" to help K12's teachers improve their instructional practices, particularly in math. "With data to validate the effectiveness of these innovations, we are proceeding to replicate many of these programs in K12-managed schools," the report stated.

The 212-page report is available for download on the K12 web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.