/ Publication / Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities in K-12 Online Learning: An Analysis of the iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Programs

Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities in K-12 Online Learning: An Analysis of the iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Programs
Published on December 2, 2016

Modified on December 11, 2020

Written By: 

Mary F. RiceUniversity of Kansas


Daryl F. MellardUniversity of Kansas


Jesse R. PaceUniversity of Kansas


Richard A. Carter, Jr.University of Kansas

Report #2: Programs


Students and their parents may choose to enroll in online learning programs as supplemental support, a credit recovery option, or because they need the flexibility of a fully online program (Gemin, Pape, Vashaw, & Watson, 2015). Although students, including those with disabilities, may enroll in an online environment because they perceive that in some way it will meet their educational needs, those needs are not always met (Barbour, Archambault, & DiPietro, 2013; Borup & Stevens, in press). Consequences of not meeting those needs for students with disabilities include high non-completion rates and poor achievement (Deshler, Rice, & Greer, 2014; Rice, East, & Mellard, 2015). To provide some guidance on quality online programs, Pape and Wicks (2009) developed the National Standards for Quality Online Programs through the International Association of K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). While many of the elements of these standards may be applied easily to students with disabilities, more recent research has suggested ways in which online programs can be more effective in helping students with disabilities remain in these programs and be successful. The purpose of this report is to share findings from an expert panel about improving the program standards’ applicability to online learning.

Download the Report

Written By
  • Mary F. Rice, University of Kansas
  • Daryl F. Mellard, University of Kansas
  • Jesse R. Pace, University of Kansas
  • Richard A. Carter, Jr., University of Kansas
What we already know about this topic
  • Students with disabilities need to be welcomed to online learning at the program level, even those with more severe disabilities and behavioral concerns
  • Feedback needs to be sought from parents of students with and without disabilities
  • Funds should be set aside to accommodate disability and provide related services as part of regular budgeting procedures and accounting processes
  • Data should be collected about students with disabilities individually and as a group for analysis and evaluation
  • Programs should participate in the preparation, hiring, support, and retention of teachers who can provide general accommodations to students with disabilities and who can provide specialized services
  • It is important to collaborate with vendors and support in-house program designers in making a curriculum that is appropriate for students with various exceptionalities
What this report adds
  • Describes the process of expert panel standards review for program standards
  • Reports major implications across for program development.
  • Directs readers to additional sources and key issues.
Implications for practice and/or policy

There needs to be a shift in practice around program design where everyone involved in the program fosters a culture that communicates: “These students are entitled to be here, and we will learn what we need to help them be successful.” Whereas many programs are not currently collecting data about the specific disabilities, more sophisticated data collection is possible as they strive to adhere to the standards. Many of these revisions cannot be optimally implemented unless online learning providers gather more and more specific data about students with disabilities by category, marker characteristics, engagement, and outcomes. The current suggestions to the existing Program Standards draw heavily from existing policy and law. During review, it was noted that specific policy documents pertaining to online learning, in general, are lacking. Policy that speaks directly to online learning and specifically to students with disabilities who learn online is needed to help maximize the availability of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for these students.

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We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.