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Aurora Institute

Analyzing the CREDO Online Charter School Report: A Call for Improved Performance Metrics and Quality Assurance

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick

Issue(s): State Policy, Build Balanced Systems of Assessments

A new report Online Charter School Study 2015 from Mathematica Policy Research, CREDO at Stanford University and the Center on Reinventing Public Education was released today–providing new data on the academic performance of online charter schools in 18 states across the country. The report contends that:

  1. Online charter schools may be a good fit for many students, but that evidence is suggesting they need to improve in providing services to many existing students;
  2. Current oversight and policies may not be sufficient for online charter schools; and
  3. States should examine the performance of existing full-time online charter schools before allowing for the expansion of these types of schools.

The report signals the need for online schools and state oversight agencies, such as charter authorizers, to adopt improved performance metrics based on student-learning outcomes to evaluate the relationship between inputs, outcomes and quality assurance to ensure that only high-quality educational options are available for students.

The Need for Better Performance Metrics and Improved Oversight: In 2012, iNACOL released a ground-breaking report on outcomes-driven quality assurance for online learning calling for transparent reporting of performance metrics and student learning outcomes of online schools. This year, Iowa was the first state to adopt these performance metrics in state policy.

Measuring Quality from Inputs to Outcomes: Creating Student Learning Performance Metrics and Quality Assurance for Online Schools, published by iNACOL, lays out the need for quality assurance and the challenges posed to policymakers. It provides recommendations and implementation scenarios outlining key areas of outcomes-based performance measurement that must be explored more closely: proficiency; individual student growth; graduation rates; college and career readiness; and collection of data reporting on how well a program is closing the achievement gap.

In order to push the field toward greater transparency and reporting of data on student learning outcomes, iNACOL identified the key performance metrics focused on student learning outcomes that should be collected by online learning programs. iNACOL published this report to urge online schools to adopt better performance metrics and raise the bar on quality assurance.

iNACOL is nationally-recognized for its work on quality standards in online learning for online course quality standards, online teaching quality standards and online learning program quality standards. More information on quality standards are available online: iNACOL’s National Quality Standards.

Realizing the Promise of Online Learning: In addition, a recent report from Digital Learning Now, iNACOL and Getting Smart- “Online Learning: Myths, Reality & Promise” (August 2015) acknowledges the strengths of online learning and offers recommendations on aspects that need additional attention–including factors that we believe contributed to the results presented in the CREDO report.

“While there are clear benefits and opportunities, it is important to acknowledge concerns about the weak performance of some online learning programs and providers. To the extent that some states have experienced weak academic results, they are typically a result of three factors:

  • late enrollment by poorly prepared students;
  • weak operators; and
  • mismatch of programs, assessments and reporting systems.

Strong authorizing, oversight and collection of performance metrics based on student outcomes and growth, rolling enrollment and better information will help address the first two factors. Better and comparable individual student growth measures, entry and exit data on student learning growth and on-demand (or frequently scheduled) systems of assessments for better data will help with the third factor.”

Since NCLB states have relied primarily on end of year tests to measure grade level proficiency. These testing and accountability systems don’t provide accurate measures of individual academic growth.

Raising the Bar for Quality: iNACOL has been working with full-time online schools and policy makers to urge policy makers and programs to adopt and report on better performance metrics that would improve quality assurance, increase transparency of performance and enable improved oversight.

iNACOL suggests that programs that are consistently underperforming should undergo a three-year probation with a plan for improving outcomes and include stronger educator and student supports. Chronically failing programs and schools should be closed or non-renewed.

In some cases online programs receive 30-50% less funding. It is important for programs to provide adequate, equitable resources and supports to serve student populations to ensure their learning needs are being met.  Understanding the relationship between inputs, such as funding levels and curriculum reviews, and outcomes in student achievement is critical. The focus on online learning should be on offering high-quality educational opportunities. Evaluating programs requires a renewed focus on establishing better performance metrics and improved outcomes based on student learning.