Quality Assurance in K-12 Online Learning Programs: Michigan Case Studies

Published on September 7, 2016

Modified on December 10, 2020

Written By: 

Tom Clark, Ph.D.TA Consulting


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 Clark, Ph.D., TA 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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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.