SC virtual public school programs flounder. Aiken might have an answer. | Colombia

Many South Carolina K-12 virtual public school programs suffer from high failure rates.

The problems have become so acute that Horry County School District, the third-largest school district in the state, announced at a January 25 board meeting that it was considering ending its virtual program after that about half of his students failed at least one class.

And the high failure rates in virtual programs are not limited to this district alone. A Post and Courier review of virtual programs in the 10 largest school districts found that most were plagued with poor academic performance.

Only 2% of South Carolina students are participating in virtual public K-12 programs, according to data provided by SC Department of Education spokesperson Ryan Brown. But these students are often among the most vulnerable. Low Country Virtual, a full-time virtual program created as a collaboration between eight districts, including those in the three counties, reported that nearly 10% of its students have a disability and 60% are black or Latino.

The high failure rates in these programs jeopardize the future of these children. But where many of the largest school districts’ online programs struggle, Aiken County has managed to maintain its high success rate and may have a way to successfully run a full-time virtual program.

Go virtual

Virtual learning was normalized at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many students had to learn remotely due to health issues. They were instructed by teachers who taught classes live on video platforms like Zoom whenever the pandemic threw students into virtual learning.

The virtual programs put in place by the 10 largest school districts are more structured than they were at the start of the pandemic. They are designed so that students can enroll in the program full-time and often have a combination of live and asynchronous classes. A teacher monitors their lessons, marks their homework and can help students if they have any problems.

Although research on the online learning performance of K-12 students is limited, it tends to show that they do less well virtually than in person. A 2017 study by the American Institutes for Research and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research randomly assigned 1,224 ninth graders who failed algebra at 17 Chicago high schools to take online credit recovery courses. or face to face. Overall, students learning online said they found the course more difficult and were not as likely to get their credits back.


Emily Evans uses her keyboard while communicating with her third grade English Language Arts class during her afternoon lesson Monday, Feb. 7, 2022 in Summerville. Andrew J. Whitaker/staff

These findings were backed up by another 2017 study by New York University and RAND Corp. which looked at data from 1.7 million Ohio K-12 students who attended virtual schools and physical schools. The study found that “students’ performance in the online school is significantly lower than that of their peers in traditional charter schools and traditional public schools.”

Many South Carolina students attending full-time virtual programs created by larger districts are struggling. The Greenville County School District, the largest in the state, reported that nearly a quarter of its high school students failed at least one class during its second term of this school year, from Oct. 18 to January 13. Only 6% of high school students learning in person did not pass a course during the same period.

Figures for virtual middle and elementary school programs in Greenville County reflected this trend with 19% of virtual middle schools failing a class in the second quarter of this school year, compared to 2% of high school students learning in person. Seven percent of virtual elementary students failed at least one class compared to 1 percent of elementary school students learning face-to-face.

Students performed better in class this school year compared to the same period last year when 34% of high school students, 23% of middle school students and 12% of elementary school students failed at least one virtual class.

At a school board meeting Feb. 8, Jeff McCoy, associate superintendent of academics in Greenville County, said next year the district will begin to have more conversations with students who are not doing well in a virtual setting, telling them they need to get back to an in-person class.

Low Country Virtual reported that nearly 30% of its students had at least one assignment missing in one or more classes this school year, and it had to do attendance interventions with about 10% of its students.

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Asked about poor student performance in virtual programs, officials from several of the top 10 school districts pointed out that the number of students in virtual programs was declining. In an email, Greenville County spokesman Tim Waller wrote that in the 2020-21 school year, 23,000 students enrolled in the district’s virtual program. This school year, there are 3,142 students. In Horry County, enrollment last year peaked at 18,449 students. It fell 84% to 2,247 at the time of the Jan. 25 school board meeting.

A virtual initiative in eight districts

Low Country Virtual is a new, full-time, online program created by Charleston County, Berkeley County, Dorchester School District 2, Beaufort County, Dorchester District 4, Colleton County, School District 2 in Florence and School District 52 in Greenwood.

It started the 2021-22 school year because districts saw more families interested in sending their children to virtual schools, but some of the smaller districts didn’t have the staff or infrastructure in place to create a full-time virtual program, according to Edi Cox, the director of LCV.

“These districts came together and asked if, through networking, there was a way to share resources to create a program to serve a small number of families from different districts in a full-time, virtual program. “, she said.

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The Lowcountry Virtual login page is seen on Emily Evans’ screen during her afternoon class Monday, Feb. 7, 2022 in Summerville. Andrew J. Whitaker/staff

The program is leased from Florida-based virtual education provider Flexpoint and consists of synchronous and asynchronous classes for K-8 students. At the start of the year, the program had 650 students, but enrollment has since dropped to around 620.

Cox said the students left for a variety of reasons, including families being vaccinated against COVID-19 and the curriculum differing from their expectations.

“Some of them expected what they were getting during emergency distance learning with Zoom teachers all day, which is not really what a high-quality virtual program is. done,” she said.

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She attributed the 29% of students missing homework to illness and disruption caused by delta and omicron waves this school year. She added that unlike a traditional classroom, students at LCV had multiple attempts to make up their work. Assignments that can be made up are assignments like homework or quizzes, not mid-term or end-of-year tests.

In an email, LCV spokeswoman Cindy Ambrose said the program is structured this way so students can work to demonstrate mastery of a subject before the end of the year, and that a student missing a job could mean they have only one unfinished job. mission.

Cox also attributed the program’s rate of absenteeism interventions to illness and pandemic disruptions. When a student misses one or more live sessions, their teacher contacts their family.

“We try to get member districts involved in participating in these parent conferences because they are their students,” she said.

Aiken’s potential solutions

Like other larger districts, the number of students in the Aiken County School District’s virtual program grew in the 2020-2021 school year to 6,490 students, or 27.8% of its total enrollment. , according to data provided by Kate Olin, district manager. Office of Accountability and Evaluation. By the end of the first semester of this school year, 40% of virtual middle and high school students were failing math and about 45% were failing their English class.

“Academically, the majority of students in the virtual program performed lower and demonstrated lower academic growth rates than the face-to-face modality,” Olin said.

The district changed that around this school year. By the end of the first semester, only 2.2% of virtual students were failing math and 7.6% were failing their ELA course.

Jeanie Glover, the district’s chief information officer, said it was because the district screened students to ensure they could handle a full-time virtual learning environment; students who enrolled could not have failed a course last year in the district’s virtual or face-to-face classes.

“You can ask students to log in and be counted as present in a class, but if they don’t get the job done, it’s counterproductive,” she said. “We want to make sure the students who can handle the work are the ones in the program.”

Another thing that Glover felt also ensured the success of the program was that all virtual teachers instructed students from one location. They did not teach in houses in the district, but in the same building.

“If a student shows up to a live class with one teacher and not another, teachers can have conversations,” she said.

Additionally, the virtual program has two administrators whose job it is to contact parents if their children miss a class or do poorly on homework.

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