Archive for Thursday, August 21, 2003

Virtual School faces challenge

August 21, 2003

Like a Hail Mary pass in football, the theory behind the new education bill, the No Child Left Behind Act, seems to be all or nothing. And school officials say that go-for-broke philosophy is hurting several Kansas school districts, Basehor-Linwood included.

The No Child Left Behind Act is a reformed, re-authorized version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

The bill places tougher expectations on teachers and schools for better performance and annually critiques schools based on student performance on assessment tests. Schools are required to show annual yearly progress (AYP) with sanctions kicking into place should a school fail to meet its AYP.

As part of the No Child Left Behind Act grading system, subgroups such as graduation rates and attendance are measured and if they are not met at a particular school, the school is listed as not meeting its AYP.

Last week, the Kansas Department of Education released a list of Kansas schools not meeting yearly progress standards. The list included reputable schools in districts such as Leavenworth, De Soto and Olathe, which failed to meet progress standards in the subgroups. Out of 983 Kansas schools, 183 failed to meet progress standards.

Such is the case at the Basehor-Linwood Virtual School, an on-line school where students complete course work via e-mail, which didn't meet the required graduation rate of 75 percent.

The charter school was the only Basehor-Linwood school not meeting progress requirements. (See related story, at right)

"It was solely because of the graduation rate," assistant superintendent Bill Hatfield said. "It was too low.

"Seventy-five percent seems like a reasonable number and I don't think many people would argue with that," Hatfield added. "But when you have various groups of people enrolled in the school like there are at the virtual school, 75 percent seems a little ambitious."

A closer analysis of the virtual school and how it's graded under the No Child Left Behind Act reveals a flaw in the education bill's grading system, school district officials said.

The virtual school, which has been used as a model for state education officials for on-line and alternative education programs, caters to students seeking their high school education outside of the typical public school system. This includes home school students and those seeking their General Equivalency Diploma.

Many virtual school students are 19 or older and are taking classes part-time, in addition to working full-time and raising children, school officials said.

However, under the education bill grading system, those students aren't separated when considering graduation requirements. It's a flaw that Basehor-Linwood and state education officials are working to correct.

"(The state) is re-visiting that to see if it needs to be adjusted so that non-traditional students age-wise would not be figured in the graduation rate," Hatfield said.

It's a concern for the school district because if the virtual school is held to the same standards as other schools and continues to fail in the graduation sub-group, the school could eventually lose its accreditation or even its funding.

School district officials said they're determined not to let a good educational program like the virtual school set back and are working with the department of education for a solution to the grading dilemma.

"It's a great goal, that every kid will learn," Hatfield said of the No Child Left Behind Act. "No one with a reasonable mind would dispute that. But, it's the sub-groups knocking on the AYP door. No one wants to see good programs going by the wayside. Some goals just don't

Commenting has been disabled for this item.