Virtual Academies at Work to Close the Achievement Gap

Diverse group of students using computer for finding information for their academic project. Happy young people sitting at table with books and computer taking notes for their study.

For decades the education community has been discussing and attempting to narrow the achievement gap. The educational “achievement gap,” refers to the significant difference in academic success among groups of students. Most frequently, it is discussed as the disparity between African-American and Hispanic students and their non-Hispanic white classmates or the gap between low-income students and their middle class and wealthier peers. More recently, however, we see an increasing focus on additional achievement gaps, such as those based on language, sex, and learning disabilities. We are at an extremely interesting time in which technology will provide a unique opportunity for better personalization for all students. Regardless of the group they identify with, technology means increased resources to track, monitor, and encourage individual growth in a manner that is both efficient and productive for educators and students.

Teachers, school networks, organizations, and policy makers around the country pledge a dedication to closing these gaps, but they are difficult, to say the least, challenges to take on. Technological advancements in education present a new opportunity to reach students in a unique and personalized way that allows for a customized education that adapts to the needs of students and provides options, choice, and the individualization provides a launchpad for significant growth.

Virtual Schools are in the hunt to close the achievement gap as well. Getting Smart Advocacy Partner and leading provider of K – 12 online school programs, K12 Inc released a new report highlighting three online charters, the largest K12 managed schools, that making progress toward closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged and not disadvantaged students.

“For the 2013-2014 school year, K12 reported that its network of schools enrolled a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than the national average,” said Dr. Margaret Jorgensen, K12 Chief Academic Officer. “K12-managed schools are working to close the achievement gap, and in this report we look at three cases where schools are closing the gap between students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch and those not eligible. In other instances, we observed that students who were eligible for either free or reduced price lunch are achieving higher percentages at or above proficiency on state tests, while others who were not eligible for subsidized meals were making even greater gains in proficiency.”

Texas Virtual Academy (TXVA)

The core philosophy of TXVA is that all young people can achieve academic excellence if they are provided rigorous instruction, high standards, informed guidance, and individual attention.

Results: In Reading, comparing TXVA students enrolled 3 years or more to those enrolled less than 1 year, proficiency percentages increased with longer enrollment for Free Lunch Eligible students by 20 percentage points, for Reduce-Price Lunch by 18 percentage points, and for Not Eligible by 15 percentage points. Notable at TXVA is the impressive improvement in Mathematics for each category of students enrolled 3 years or more, with 74% of students eligible for Free Lunch reaching proficiency, 81% of students eligible for Reduced-Price Lunch reaching proficiency, and 94% of students Not Eligible for subsidized meals reaching proficiency.

Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA)

AZVA uses K¹² curricula to offer K – 12 students in Arizona an online learning experience. The individualized learning approach is designed to provide the tools kids need to succeed—in school and beyond.

Results: In Reading, proficiency percentages increased for AZVA in all free or reduced-priced lunch (FRL) groups. The gap between Free Lunch Eligible and Not Eligible narrowed from 17 percentage points for students enrolled less than 1 year, to 15 percentage points for students enrolled 3 years or more. In Mathematics, compared to students enrolled less than 1 year, AZVA students enrolled 3 years or more achieved higher proficiency percentages across all FRL groups.

Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA)

GCA partners parents and students with a highly qualified, Georgia-certified teacher to guide and track their progress and achievement through the K12 curriculum. Options for face to face meetings are incorporated into the student learning plans. Student-to-student interaction is also key, and GCA provides students frequent opportunities for social activities and engagement.

Results: In Reading, compared to students enrolled less than 1 year, GCA students enrolled 3 years or more achieved higher proficiency percentages, except for students eligible for Reduced-Price Lunch Eligible. The overall proficiency percentage of students eligible for Reduced-Price Lunch enrolled 3 years of more remained high at 95%. In Mathematics, compared to students enrolled less than 1 year, GCA students enrolled 3 years or more achieved higher proficiency percentages in all FRL groups.

This K12 report is a third in a series of white papers highlighting K12 partner schools and programs that have demonstrated improved results and raised student academic achievement. Other reports include: Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy: A Success Story, Prepared for Launch and Success at New Mexico Virtual Academy, Wisconsin Virtual Academy: Building Strong Relationships for Academic Success, and K12’s annual 2015 Academic Report.

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