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Quality Assurance in K-12 Online Learning Programs: Michigan Case Studies
Published on September 7, 2016

Modified on September 7, 2016


In the present study, case studies of three Michigan program providers are presented. Each represents a major program type–Michigan Virtual (supplemental), Westwood Cyber High School (alternative), and Michigan Connections Academy (charter). Four questions are addressed in each case study. (1) What are the providers doing to ensure quality? For each program, QA methods are documented for program inputs, processes, and outcomes. This analysis yields effective practices for each program worthy of sharing, such as Michigan Virtual’s student progress widget and strong course review process, Westwood’s blending of online, on-site and home instructional activities and support, and Michigan Connection’s assessment objective performance report system for tracking student mastery across coursework. (2) How do iNACOL’s quality metrics apply (or not apply) to each provider/program type? Only the first two metrics (proficiency and growth) apply to Michigan Virtual as a supplemental provider, while all five apply to Westwood and Michigan Connections as schools. By definition, Westwood’s alternative students rarely meet the on-time graduation rate metric. (3) What barriers do the programs face to implementing the iNACOL Quality Metrics? (4) What are some potential solutions to overcoming those barriers?. As a supplemental provider, Michigan Virtual can only influence the level of local school support for students, so it provides strong local mentor tools and support. Michigan Connections has high student mobility that impacts graduation rate and works proactively to catch students up. Alternative schools like Westwood need an extended graduation rate metric to document their impact They provide intensive support online, at school and at home to help students graduate.

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Prepared By:

Tom Clar, Ph.D., Clark Consulting

What We Already Know About This Topic:

The quality and effectiveness of today’s K-12 online and blended learning programs and courses vary greatly. National Education Policy Center studies, MVLRI’s Effectiveness Reports, and other research studies have documented problems with underachievement, high student mobility, and low graduation rates in some online and blended programs and courses. A 2012 white paper by iNACOL identifies 5 key outcomes-based performance metrics for measuring the quality and effectiveness of K-12 online and blended learning programs—proficiency, individual student growth, graduation rate, college and career readiness, and closing the achievement gap—and recommends that programs use them to monitor and improve their performance.

What This Report Adds:

This report presents case studies of three exemplar programs that represent major types of K-12 online and blended learning programs (supplemental, alternative, and charter). Each of these freestanding case studies explores the ways in which a successful program seeks to ensure quality and positive student outcomes, with a focus on the five iNACOL quality metrics cited above.

Implications for Practice and/or Policy:

For online and blended learning to be a truly successful tool of educational transformation, it is essential that online and blended learning program are high quality and result in strong learning outcomes for students. A focus on quality assurance can help programs improve and strengthen student learning outcomes.

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