LANSING, Mich. — Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, about 8%, or 121,900 students, took virtual courses in 2019-2020. While all students and educators were thrust into emergency remote learning for the past year, the recently released Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report identifies some bright spots in virtual learning in Michigan that all schools should think about when restarting education in the fall. The data in this report show that, when done well, virtual education can address equity barriers and achieve student success.
“The recently-released report for the 2019-2020 school year–which reflects pre-pandemic data–provides schools a foundation to build on to increase student success,” said Joe Freidhoff, Ph.D., Vice President of Michigan Virtual and the report’s author. “School and community leaders should be engaging in discussions about what learning should look like post-pandemic and use the data shared in our report to dismantle ineffective models and contribute to the growth of successful educational programs going forward.”
According to the data, 60,000 Michigan K-12 students passed every single course they took online in the 2019-20 school year. For some students, that was a single course, but for others it may have been 12 or more. Further, more than a quarter of Michigan K-12 schools with virtual learning had schoolwide pass rates of 90% to 100%.
Of the more than 121,900 students who took virtual courses in 2019-20, over 80% of virtual enrollments came from high school students, and the most highly enrolled in virtual courses were those required for high school graduation. Sixty-eight percent of the virtual enrollments were from students who were in poverty. The overall pass rate for virtual courses (56%) was up from the past three years; however, there remains considerable variation in student success.
Racial equity remains an area of needed focus in educational structures. The overall virtual pass rate for Black students was 15 percentage points below that of White students. At the same time, what we found when we looked at student virtual learning performance and race was that for schools with higher virtual learning outcomes (80% or higher virtual pass rates), the equity gap dramatically closes. In the 44% of schools who achieved 80% higher virtual pass rates or more, the virtual pass rate for African American or Black students was 86%, and the performance gap between it and the White rate dropped to four percentage points. This signals that schools who have overall success with online education have also found a way to achieve more equitable outcomes.
Virtual success is not limited by economic opportunity, and can benefit students in low-income communities. Students in poverty accounted for almost 70% of the virtual enrollments–despite only representing about 50% of Michigan K-12 students–and these students had a virtual pass rate that was 18 percentage points lower than it was for students who were not in poverty. Yet, for students in the more than 540 Michigan K-12 schools that had virtual pass rates of 80% or higher, the outcomes significantly improved. In these schools, students in poverty only generated about half of the virtual enrollments, meaning they were not being selected disproportionately to take online courses. More importantly, students in poverty passed their virtual courses 86% of the time, and the performance gap between them and students not in poverty closed to six percentage points. And these results happened in geographically diverse schools across the state: rural and urban communities, cities, towns, and suburbs alike.
This year’s report is the eighth edition of this annual publication and completes 10 years of data on K-12 virtual learning in Michigan. For more information about the Effectiveness Report, visit michiganvirtual.org.