Accountability in Online Learning: Ann Arbor Public Schools
This blog post is the second in a series examining district-level accountability and teacher effectiveness related to virtual learning in Michigan. Each post in the series is accompanied by a podcast with our participants, which you can find at the end of the posts. The first post in the series is also currently available online.
Cindy Leaman is the principal of A2 Virtual+ Academy, the supplemental online learning program offered by Ann Arbor Public Schools in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The program has been in existence since 2000 and has seen a fair amount of evolution and growth since its inception. Cindy notes an identified program mission of allowing students more flexibility, choice, and personalization in their learning. Most students enroll in no more than two online courses per academic term and do so primarily because of the options they provide with regard to scheduling. This past school year, there were nearly 1,700 students taking online courses during the school year and close to 400 enrolled in the summer.
To address student accountability, A2 Virtual+ requires students to have a minimum of two proctored exams and a face-to-face orientation with their instructor for each course in which they are enrolled. There are also procedures in place to ensure that students are completing work on schedule, including timestamped assignments and regularly scheduled audits in courses to track progress. A2 Virtual+ also employs staff called building liaisons, placing one in each building where an online student attends face-to-face, to help facilitate communication and progress checking between the parent, student, counselors, and administrators within the building.
Regarding instructor and mentor accountability, many of the measures are similar. Cindy notes that keeping a constant pulse on the status of the program and its students is key. Staff attend weekly PLC meetings to address emerging issues and think about ways to be proactive to help students succeed. A2 Virtual+ online instructors are also evaluated using the same framework used for face-to-face teachers, the Danielson Framework for Teaching. Cindy served on the district committee overseeing teacher evaluation processes and is intimately familiar with how the framework is employed across the district. She does see the need for modification, especially when it comes to the teacher observation tool when applying it to the online environment. The systems used in the online environment, though, can be advantageous when checking for evidence within some of the domains of the framework, including course planning and preparation and professional responsibilities in communication and record keeping. As Cindy notes, there is a wealth of information in the course environment that provides a detailed picture of how an instructor is performing.
Lastly, Cindy mentions that they often think about how to keep the entire program accountable, specifically to the district as a whole. She and her team usually give an annual board presentation, and one of the issues they’ve grappled with is trying to ensure that A2 Virtual+ serves students from all across the board from a demographic and achievement perspective. They also use data from quality review processes, standards alignment, and course completion data to try to ensure that students enrolled in the program are receiving high-quality learning experiences.