Jeff Kwitowski's picture

State Testing & Online Schools: What You Probably Never Knew

It’s spring—the season of warm days, blooming flowers, budding trees…and state tests.

In many states, however, this testing season has felt more like a cold and damp winter.  Delays, cancellations, and other well-documented testing mishaps have soured the mood of parents and educators, and provided much fodder for critics of state tests.

Alaska cancelled its tests outright after its testing platform collapsed.  Kansas, which used the same assessment provider as Alaska, had multiple testing delays after experiencing similar technical issues.  Problems in Texas, Nevada, and New York have also been reported.  The Indiana legislature recently scrapped its controversial ISTEP tests after several snafus.  Last year, testing problems plagued officials in Minnesota, Georgia, Florida, and other states.

Perhaps the most well-known testing flop in 2016 occurred in Tennessee.  The state’s not-so-aptly named TNReady test turned out not to be ready at all after a series of technical failures caused the state to order schools to abruptly stop the computer-based version and switch to the paper-based version, resulting in widespread cancellations and delays, not to mention a complete loss of faith in TNReady’s results.  Parents, teachers, and district officials are urging the Education Commissioner and the Governor to cancel part two of the TNReady exams and start fresh next year, or at least exclude this year’s tests from being used for teacher, district, and school accountability.

In most instances when testing problems occur, state department of education officials simply instruct all schools and districts to stop testing and shift to a normal instructional day.  After the TNReady testing platform imploded in Tennessee, the Commissioner of Education emailed district directors with the following instruction:

“At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes. Please do not begin any new additional testing you had planned for today until the department provides further information.”

“Return to their normal classes.”  That makes sense.  After all, the normal daily routine for traditional schools is basically the same:  students get on buses, go to their assigned schools, and report to their classrooms, whether for instruction or state testing. 

Not so for online public schools.  There is absolutely nothing normal or routine when online schools students take state tests.  In fact, I bet most people have no idea what online schools must do to fulfil the state-mandated testing requirements.

Jeff Kwitowski's picture

Why Online Charter Schools Matter – Reason # 219,737

Excerpt from The Advocate (Louisiana):

A couple of years ago, Macie Zoble and her son were in crisis.

The Lafayette woman had done everything in her power to keep Riley, then a kindergartner, stable enough to simply finish a traditional school day.

To combat his severe type of bipolar disorder — which mimicked attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and set teachers on edge — the round-cheeked child had been fed high doses of psychotropic drugs, only for Zoble to learn later that he metabolized them too rapidly for them to matter.

He’d been assigned a special learning plan — aimed at keeping students with such difficulties in the classroom — but with an administrator-mandated 10:30 a.m. pickup time, it barely kept him in school at all.

When nothing worked, she pulled him out of school. She quit her job.

Enter Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy.

“It changed our lives. Completely,” Zoble said, tears running down her face.

Carolyn Fabis's picture

Why I love teaching online

Carolyn Fabis teaching at IDVA

My students: The students I serve at Idaho Vision High School -- an accredited alternative program offered through Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA) -- were looking for a place to succeed and earn their H.S. Diploma. While they have different life circumstances that brought them to our school, one thing they have in common is they want an education delivered in a personalized, unique way.

My students continue to impress me with their educational progress despite living through difficult situations where schooling is not their number one priority—which may be caring for a new baby, working full-time to pay bills, or a personal or family illness.  Just last semester a 12th grade student who became displaced due to a fire in her home continued to work on her studies from her hotel room. Here’s what she has to say about her experience at IDVA:

“The classroom experience that I have valued the most is the ability to go at my own pace. With Idaho Virtual Academy, I have the option to slow down or work ahead. It has been a huge learning experience for me to be responsible for when and how I will be getting my work done. I have learned how important diligence is through this experience and I value it deeply.”

I get to be part of 21st century education. Online teaching and learning gives both those learning and teaching the ability to gain digital literacy and technological skills in tools needed for the 21st century.  The high school online learning management system allows me to see how much time students are spending in unit lessons, quizzes and tests. In the brick-and-mortar model, I could only guess how much effort was being put forth outside of the classroom. The data gathered by using a digital learning system can help me individualize assistance plans for each unique student.

Wendy Oleksinski's picture

Radio Station Makes Dream Come True for GCA Teacher

For Rosie Lowndes, a middle school director for Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA), being on the radio has always been a personal goal and dream.  When Lowndes was invited to be a guest DJ on 103.3 FM, an urban contemporary radio station in Atlanta, she was more than thrilled.

Rosie Lowndes with GCA Students

Jennifer Schultze's picture

Positive Culture Creates Effective Learning Environments for WYVA Families

For the last few years Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) has worked on developing a positive culture and environment within our school community.  WYVA staff and administrators have embraced theories such as the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as well as strengths-based approaches which concentrate on the inherent strengths of individuals and groups.

I recently presented at a K12 Promising Practices seminar on the topic of positive school culture. I shared that I have seen our school thrive in the last few years in ways since implementing these new approaches.

At our school, students in kindergarten through high school are given weekly assemblies and strategies to develop life skills, create personal goals, and to help them find ways to better organize their learning approaches.  WYVA teachers work to have consistent communication with students that show that we are not just invested in them as teachers, but that we truly care about all of our students and families as individuals.