/ 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 2, 2016

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.

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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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