In 2009, the Virginia Virtual Academy (VAVA) became the commonwealth’s first full-time online school — a public institution open to students from kindergarten through eighth grade across the state.
But it’s not technically a school — it’s a program of rural Carroll County, which borders North Carolina.
That matters for one key reason. Unlike almost every other school in the state, VAVA student test scores aren’t reported separately — they’re rolled into the scores of Carroll County’s brick and mortar schools.
It also means that under the federal No Child Left Behind law, Carroll County educators are responsible for the achievement of students they never see in class. (Though the vast majority of VAVA’s students live outside the county, they appear on county teachers’ class rosters.)
James G. Smith, superintendent of Carroll schools, says that is a problem.
“We want to make sure that the vendors and the students are held accountable for their learning and the performance of the program,” he said in a recent interview.
Smith has asked the state board of education for permission to set up the Virginia Virtual Academy as a standalone school. That change would allow VAVA’s test scores and other accountability data to be reported on the education department’s Web site and elsewhere.
K12 officials said they support the proposal.
“We believe in transparency,” said Allison Cleveland, a senior vice president at K12.
Turning VAVA into a school would require waiving a number of state regulations, many of which aren’t applicable to online schools, Smith argues, such as the length of the instructional day and facility requirements.
Smith is also asking the state board to waive other legal provisions, such as the requirement that all Virginia schools teach health/physical education and career/technical exploration courses.
Smith presented his requests to the state board on Nov. 17. Among the documents he provided to the board was an analysis of 2011 state test scores that comapared the performance of VAVA students with Carroll County’s brick-and-mortar students.
In many instances, VAVA students under-performed the county’s students, particularly in math, science and social studies. For example, 52 percent of VAVA eighth graders — compared with 80 percent of Carroll County eighth graders — were proficient in math.
VAVA eighth graders scored better in reading, though — 88 percent were proficient, as opposed to the traditional schools’ proficiency rate of 85 percent. (The entire breakdown is on page 15 of this PDF.)
At the meeting, state board members seemed amenable to many of Smith’s requests. But some voiced concern about certain proposals — such as waiving career and technical education. The board will decide how to proceed in the coming months.
Several board members said they wanted to be particularly deliberative since whatever they decide will likely set a precedent for future discussions about standalone virtual schools.