As the number of K-12 students who take online courses continues to grow -- more than two million are currently enrolled -- the need to uphold rigorous standards to online education is becoming that much more important. And with criticism leveled at many online schools for poor academic performance, the online education model needs to create a more accurate way to assess the quality of the dozens of programs in the space.
That’s the premise of a new report published by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) entitled “Measuring Quality from Inputs to Outcomes,” which focuses on laying out a new system of metrics. The report advocates for a new assessment model that focuses on competency-based evaluations that measure a student’s learning trajectory – including proficiency and growth – rather than what the organization call “inputs,” as traditional schools do. Inputs include things like teacher licensing and curriculum and textbook standards. Those inputs are not tied to student achievement, the authors argue, so they fail as metrics for assessing whether an online education program is doing its job.
Instead, the report favors an approach focused on “outcomes.” Programs should be judged on student proficiency, as well as individual student growth over time. Most states have an annual end of year assessment to measure proficiency. But those tests only measure student achievement at one point in time – it’s just one snapshot that misses the bigger picture of that student’s learning trajectory.
Susan Patrick, President and CEO of iNACOL and the report’s lead author, contends that current assessments for online schools do a disservice to students who were lagging but have caught up, as well as those who have surpassed the learning standards of their current grade. At a minimum, she says, students should be assessed at the beginning and end of the year to plot their growth. And ideally, she’d like to see competency-based evaluations that are not tied to a set period of time, or "seat time."
“The conclusion was that if we had competency-based systems in place it would make these assessments much easier,” said Patrick. If the assessment measured a student’s grasp of a specific concept, there would be more data points to draw a map of that child’s achievement and knowledge gaps.