Colorado online students fare worse than statewide average
DENVER – Students taking online courses in Colorado perform worse than statewide averages, a state report said, but online educators say their pupils have more problems to begin with.Kindergarten through 12th-grade online students were forced to repeat grades four times more often than the statewide average last year, and a higher percentage were rated “unsatisfactory” on standardized math tests, according to Colorado Department of Education figures.State officials said they did not know the reasons for the disparities. Online school operators said they draw a high number of students who have failed in traditional schools or have other problems.”What makes us look so bad is about 75 percent of our (online) students coming to us are high at-risk,” said Bill Hines, superintendent of the Vilas School District in southeast Colorado, which has 350 online students and fewer than 100 traditional students.Advocates say online education, offered by nine all-online cyberschools and dozens of traditional school districts, is an alternative for disabled or working students, students who face bullying or who simply don’t do well in traditional classrooms.At Colorado Virtual Academy, the state’s largest online school with about 1,700 students, 80 percent of middle-schoolers start at least one grade behind their age group, said Kin Griffith, executive director. The school is based in suburban Northglenn.Tim Snyder of Colorado Online Learning, a federally funded provider of online courses, said the state set no standards or accountability measures when it authorized funding for cyberschools in 1998.State Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada plans to introduce a bill creating a statewide authority to hold online schools accountable, citing their “shockingly poor” performance. It would cover both cyberschools and traditional districts that offer online courses.Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards said the legislation is a priority for the group.”So as long as we use the public dollar for choice programs, we need to follow that dollar with accountability,” she said.
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