How did students enrolled in California’s online and virtual schools perform on the 2011 California Standards Test(CST)? After CST results were released on August 15^{th}, I researched each of the schools from my previous post to discover how their students preformed in English, math, and Algebra I during the 2010/11 school year. The results are discouraging.

**Online Learning Growth**

While my current spreadsheet of California schools includes more than 50 online and virtual schools, only 35 schools have been online for two or more years. As a whole, these 35 schools experienced a 16% increase in students between 2009/10 and 2010/11. However, six of the 35 schools experienced decreased enrollment last year, averaging a 14% decline. Of the remaining 29 schools, student enrollment increased 21% between 2009/10 and 2010/11. The median increase was 48%.

**Curriculum**

Of the 45 schools with California Standards Test (CST) data, three had insufficient numbers of students taking each test (<10) to display results. The remaining 42 schools include three Rocketship schools and the San Francisco Flex Academy, all which utilize a blended model in a brick and mortar setting. The majority of these schools appear to be turn-key operations from a variety of online companies. These include 15 from K12.com, six Kaplan, six Advanced Academics, two by National University, two Connections Academies, and one Insight. I’ve not discovered who provides the content for the remaining schools.

**No Child Left Behind (NCLB)**

For the 2010/2011 school year, NCLB requires that at least 67.6% of elementary students reach proficiency in English-language arts (ELA) and that at least 68.5% reach proficiency in math. High Schools are required to have ELA proficiency levels of 66.7% and math proficiency levels of 66.1%. The range includes Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic and Far Below Basic. For the 2009/10 school year, NCLB required proficiency levels of 58% in math and 56.8% in ELA.

For the purpose of this post, I accessed the CST Summary reports for each school http://star.cde.ca.gov/star2011/ which showed combined ELA proficiency for grades two to 11 and combined math proficiency for grades two to seven. High school Algebra I scores were accessed through the CST search for each school. The percentage of “proficient” students includes both those in the “Advanced” and “Proficient” categories.

**English-Language Arts**

Of the 42 online & blended schools, only three (7%) scored well enough to meet this year’s federal NCLB requirements. Student proficiency in ELA ranged from 13%-76% (iHigh Virtual Academy). 19 online and blended schools had 50% or more proficient students in ELA. The median proficiency level was 48%. Nine schools would have met the 2009/10 requirements.

**Math (Grades 2-7)**

41 virtual/blended schools achieved math proficiency levels ranging from 3% to 85% (Rocketship Mateo Sheedy). The three Rocketship schools had proficiency levels of 80%, 84%, and 85%. Discounting these, the 38 remaining online schools and a median proficiency level of 17%. 11 of the 38 schools (29%) had less than 10% of their students achieve proficiency in math. 23 out of 38 schools (61%) had less than 20% of their students reach proficiency. Capistrano Connections Academy Charter performed the best of the remaining 38 schools with 37% of their students scoring Proficient or Advanced. So, discounting the Rocketship schools, none of California’s virtual schools meets this, or last, year’s NCLB requirements.

**Algebra I**

31 schools had Algebra I academic data results. Of those, only one, RAI Online Charter, had more than 50% of their students reach proficiency. The 31 schools ranged from 0% to 54% of their students scoring proficient in Algebra I. The median proficiency level was 12%. (Ok, let’s stop and think about this. HALF of California’s virtual schools had no more than 12% of their students score proficient on the Algebra I test.) 17 schools (45%) had less than 10% of their students reach proficiency. Only 3 schools had more than 20% proficient students; two of those were Connections Academies.

**Why does the emperor have no clothes?**

What are the causes of the dismal student performance in both mathematics and Algebra I? Are full-time virtual schools at a disadvantage when compared to blended/hybrid schools like Rocketship? What role does curriculum play? Is their something inherently wrong with the pedagogy or make-up of virtual math classes? Is there something different between the make-up of students who attend virtual schools versus those who are in brick-and-mortar schools? What role does the student-instructor play in the poor scores? What’s missing from mathematics and Algebra I curriculum that would lead to sub-par performance?

I have some ideas, but there are more than a few doctorates waiting for those who explore more deeply.

First, it is difficult to judge any school with one set of data and make conclusions.

Second, research regarding Algebra in California shows that many students who do not pass Algebra by 8th grade have difficulty showing proficiency in Algebra in 9th-11th grades. The same test data you analyzed for all California students shows the percentage proficient for the Alg 1 test: 7th – 82%; 8th – 47%; 9th – 22%; 10th – 13%; 11th – 9% (there are similar trends like these in every school across the nation…students get turned off to math some time in 7th or 8th grade and then have to retake Algebra two or three times taught the same way).

Third, you compare Rocketship Schools, which are K-5 schools, with online high schools (9-12) which is not a valid comparison. Rocketship students attend face-to-face school every day unlike students who are only online.

Fourth, the majority of charter school students have either left a traditional school or have been pushed out due to attendance or behavior issues causing charter and online charter schools to work with student who would be classified as “at risk” the minute they enter charter schools. Few charter schools refuse to enroll students who have been removed from their traditional school.

Fifth, it is difficult to judge charter schools and online charter schools when they are just starting up. (see the Rand Report, Zimmer et all – 2003 – “Charter schools Operations and Performance…”) It will be important to follow the trends of the schools over time rather than making generalizations based on one test taken in one day.

Sixth, students move in and out of online charter schools on a weekly basis which means the school may have 100 students on CBEDS day in October but by testing day, which is generally in early May, of the original 100 students, 20 of the same students may be there on testing day.

Seventh, it is important to look at how many students were tested. For low enrollment, it is the luck of the draw as to whether the students who take the test in math will do well or not. For example Capistrano Connections Academy which you mention had the following number of students take the Alg 1 test: 8th – 61; 9th – 48; 10th – 32; 11th – 6. It is difficult to generalize based on so few students taking this one test.

Finally, it takes from 3-5 years for any good system to go from good to great. Most online charter schools in California, as you mention, have been in place for less than 2 years. Of the schools you mention, Capistrano Connections opened in 2004 with 100 students in grades K-8. Rocketship Mateo Sheedy opened in 2007 with 160 students in grades K-3.

It is difficult to generalize about Alg 1 and online schools based on one test on one day…and a bunch of other variables including the frequency students meet with at teacher face-to-face, the number of students who remain in the school from August-May, previous success in math, etc.

Pingback: Blogging About K-12 Online Learning « Virtual School Meanderings