1 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama
2 The Alabama Policy Institute (API) is an independent, nonprofit research and education organization that is issue-centered and solution-oriented. We provide in-depth research and analysis of Alabama s public policy issues to impact policy decisions and deepen Alabama citizens understanding of, and appreciation for, sound economic, social, and governing principles. Since 1989, API has been on the front lines of critical public debates, helping Alabama citizens, lawmakers, and business leaders better understand and apply principles that maximize individual freedom, limit government interference, and encourage personal responsibility. API is the largest freemarket, solution-based policy research center in Alabama. For additional copies, please contact: Alabama Policy Institute 402 Office Park Drive, Suite 300 Birmingham, AL P: F: Alabama Policy Institute
3 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama Printed 2012 by The Alabama Policy Institute Birmingham, Alabama Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the Alabama Policy Institute is properly cited.
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5 TABLE OF CONTENTS The Challenge of Distance Learning in Alabama 1 ACCESS: Alabama s Distance Learning Solution 1 ACCESS Technology 2 ACCESS Utilization in Alabama 3 Measuring the Success of ACCESS 5 Ongoing Challenges Facing ACCESS 6 Conclusion 9 Appendix A: Web-Based Course Offerings for ACCESS Distance Learning, Appendix B: Most Commonly Taken ACCESS Distance Learning Courses, by Population Area,
6 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama Alabama Policy Institute
7 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama 1 The Challenge of Distance Learning in Alabama The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) has continually faced the challenge of providing high school students in rural areas with an adequate education designed to equip them for the rigors of college and the global workforce. In 2003, almost 32 percent of Alabama s public school students attended rural schools, many of which were small and in impoverished areas. Their diminished budgets and distance from urban areas often prevented these schools from being able to attract and ultimately hire teachers needed to expand course offerings or provide other specialized training. In the same way, limited education funding hindered access to technological resources that students could otherwise have used to improve their workforce skills. 1 Many of these schools were also unable to provide a comprehensive curriculum that could offer the courses necessary for an advanced high school diploma. In 2003 before the implementation of Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, & Students Statewide (ACCESS) 99 Advanced Placement (AP) exams were given in Alabama for every 1,000 juniors and seniors, the third lowest rate in the South. 2 Alabama looked to other states and concluded that distance learning offerings could be part of the solution to many of these problems. In short, distance learning creates a learning environment by incorporating technology and internet access into educational offerings, in and out of the traditional classroom setting. These courses typically include web-based classes, interactive video conferencing (IVC), or a blend of both. Prior to the deployment of ACCESS, Alabama already had a dozen distance learning initiatives across the state, but most were either online classroom resources, technology training sites for teachers and administrators, or fixed sites for video conferencing. Only two the Alabama Online 1 Governor s Task Force on Distance Learning, State of Alabama, A Plan for Distance Learning, Nov. 1, accessdl.state.al.us/accessplan.pdf. 2 Id. High School, and the Southeast Alabama Technology Network were bona fide, student-centered distance learning programs. These resources were not interconnected or centrally coordinated, nor did they operate under a standardized format. 3 ACCESS: Alabama s Distance Learning Solution Governor Bob Riley s Task Force on Distance Learning addressed these problems with the creation of ACCESS in By blending traditional classroom teaching with the Internet and videoconferencing technology, ACCESS gives students, particularly those in underserved districts, academic opportunities they would not have otherwise. ACCESS allows students to take AP courses, earn advanced diplomas, learn foreign languages, and take electives that their local school does not offer. Because research conducted in other states has shown that courses using a blend of web-based and IVC platforms have the potential to be the most effective form of distance learning, ACCESS offers courses incorporating both. 4 The program, which is supervised and coordinated from Montgomery, has three regional support centers to hire, train, evaluate, and support ACCESS teachers. The centers for the northern, central, and southern thirds of the state are located in Madison, Tuscaloosa, and Troy, respectively. Teachers are also able to use the program to receive professional development without leaving their school. 5 The initial ACCESS program for the fiscal year cost taxpayers approximately $10.3 million, with most of these funds going to provide the necessary technical equipment and coursework for up to 6,000 students in 3 Id. 4 International Society for Technology in Education, External Evaluation of the Alabama ACCESS Initiative: Phase 3 Report, Mar. 1, state.al.us/2006evaluation.pdf. 5 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, ACCESS Distance Learning Support Center Regions. (last visited Dec. 19, 2011).
8 2 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama more than 300 schools. 6 Since then, the ACCESS budget has fluctuated between $10.3 million and 22.8 million, and was $18.1 million during the school year. 7 At the inception of ACCESS, 22 courses were available, with the understanding that more would be offered, depending upon demand and curriculum needs. 8 In its first semester of operation in the fall of 2005, ACCESS had an enrollment of 489 students spread across several dozen schools. This number grew to 1,075 students in the spring of 2006, and in the summer of 2006, 913 students were enrolled. 9 During the school year, the first online AP courses were provided to qualifying students, and the Advanced Diploma option became available to all public high school students in the state. In the fall semester of 2006, 3,098 students were enrolled in ACCESS courses. 10 ACCESS Technology In Alabama, ACCESS uses a variety of distance learning equipment. The typical ACCESS classroom contains computer cameras, monitors and/or projectors for viewing content and teachers, interactive whiteboards, wireless routers, and a minimum of 25 tablet computers. In addition, instructors, administrators and other school personnel are given specialized training to manage ACCESS 6 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, ACCESS: A Plan for Continued Excellence, , Jan Documents/NewPlan/ACCESSPlanFinalJan2011.pdf (last visited Dec. 19, 2011). 7 Talbot Bielefeldt, M. D. Roblyer & Brandon Olszewski, Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, & Students Statewide (ACCESS): Year Four Evaluation Report. International Society for Technology in Education, Oct. 7, accessdl.state.al.us/documents/accessevaluationyear4.pdf. 8 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, ACCESS Distance Learning Making a Difference in Alabama Schools. from Earlene Patton, ACCESS Program Administrator (Aug. 24, 2011) (on file with author). 9 Id. 10 Id. classrooms. 11 At the time of the last installations, the cost of the physical equipment was $85,000 per school, not including training and support. 12 To develop courses, ACCESS either contracts with instate teachers to create content or purchases off-the-shelf from vendors. In the latter case, it also acquires the rights to modify the material, giving the state full ownership of the coursework. 13 Distance learning courses in Alabama are typically taught in one or both of the following formats: synchronous and asynchronous. Courses with synchronous content typically use IVC, while asynchronous courses use web-based content. The following paragraphs from the November 2004 report by the Governor s Task Force on Distance Learning describe the strengths of both of these formats: The highly structured learning environment and the teaching-by-telling method make interactive synchronous learning good for reinforcing knowledge or for speedy correction of misunderstandings. Group-based synchronous classes enable instructors to pace learning activities consistently and they may improve motivation in some learners through the use of familiar teaching methods. It is particularly appropriate when learners and instructors in different locations need to work together or conduct discussions within a fixed period of time. Learners have the added benefit of being part of a social environment. Learners are required to take notes and recall points from the lecture and discussion and must process and understand the presentations and discussions as they happen. Asynchronous systems are heavily reliant on print and text and are good for conveying large quantities of information. Learners have a more flexible and convenient approach to learning at a time and place best suited to their needs. Asynchronous course work requires more self-discipline from the learner to participate and 11 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, Overview. al.us/overview.html (last visited Dec. 19, 2011). 12 Bielefeldt, Roblyer & Olszewski, supra. 13 Id. Alabama Policy Institute
9 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama 3 maintain an appropriate pace and allows the learner to reflect on information before responding. Instructors also can provide a high degree of individualized attention to each student. 14 ACCESS employs both delivery formats to enhance the distance learning experience. For example, an IVC was held in April 2010 between ACCESS students and a team of UAB researchers in Antarctica. 15 On other occasions such as during Distance Learning Week, when many virtual field trips are taken, classes have visited the German Consulate, spoken with Alabama s Supreme Court justices, sat in on committee meetings of the state s House and Senate, met with researchers at Dauphin Island, toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame, and met with former Governor Riley on several occasions. Future trips include a planned visit to Chicago to meet with the History Makers, a group that preserves African- American history. 16 During the school year, every school district in Alabama used ACCESS, with an average of 20.3 different courses taken per district. 19 Interestingly, the districts taking the most ACCESS courses were those located in major metropolitan statistical areas (66 districts: average of 21.6 different courses), followed by those in micropolitan areas (31 districts: 20.1 different courses) and rural areas (34 districts: 18.1 different courses). 20 Appendix B identifies the most popular courses by population type. Another way to measure ACCESS effectiveness at meeting its intended goal to provide a variety of courses in districts where they would otherwise be impractical is to count the number of courses taken per student. According to data provided by ACCESS, rural districts had the highest level of distance learning saturation in the school year, with a ratio of 1 course taken for every 5.3 students. By comparison, micropolitan and metropolitan districts had ratios of 1 course per 7.4 and 14.6 students, respectively (see Table 1). ACCESS Utilization in Alabama ACCESS is available to all public high school students, including those in the state s Department of Youth Services. The program is also open to advanced/accelerated students in 81 of the state s middle and junior high schools. 17 In the school year, 29,415 students enrolled in ACCESS for courses with credit. This does not include another 11,746 enrollments in non-credit courses such as remediation modules for the Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) Governor s Task Force on Distance Learning, State of Alabama, A Plan for Distance Learning, supra. 15 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, Press Room. al.us/pressroom.html (last visited Dec. 19, 2011). 16 Telephone interview with Meg Lowry, ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education Specialist (Aug. 23, 2011). 17 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, ACCESS Distance Learning Making a Difference in Alabama Schools, supra. 18 Id. 19 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, AY10-AY11 Number of Courses by District, 9/30/11. Custom data file provided by Earlene Patton, ACCESS Program Administrator (Sept. 30, 2011) (on file with author). 20 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, [metropolitan statistical areas] contain a core of 50,000 or more population, and a [micropolitan] area contains at least 10,000 (but less than 50,000) population. Each metro or micro area consists of one or more counties and includes the counties containing the core urban area, as well as any adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic integration (as measured by commuting to work) with the urban core. Rural districts have populations of fewer than 10,000. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas (web). Available at Access verified October 21, School district locations by county from Alabama State Department of Education, County and City School Systems as of August 2009 (map). August Available at Access verified October 21, Statistical areas and counties from U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, Alabama Core Based Statistical Areas and Counties (map). November Available at Access verified October 21,
10 4 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama Table 1 ACCESS Market Penetration, by Population Type: Population Type Students ACCESS Courses Taken Percent Ratio Metropolitan 160,378 10, :14.6 Micropolitan 38,808 5, :7.4 Rural 26,153 4, :5.3 Total 219,774 29, :7.5 Class Offerings For the school year, ACCESS offers 78 online courses in English, Social Studies, Science, Math, Foreign Languages, Health, Art, and 19 electives (see Appendix A for a complete list). 21 Most of these courses are intended to be online equivalents of traditional high school classes; however, expanded offerings allow accelerated students to enrich their current curriculum by taking higher level courses than might be offered at the school they attend. Thirteen courses are AP courses approved by the College Board. These are designed to be the equivalent of introductory level college courses, and students taking them may receive college credit based on the score they receive on the national test and given by the college they choose to attend. To give AP students the resources to prepare for these tests, ACCESS provides them with test-taking strategies, graded work samples from real tests, scoring tools and practice tests. Online Exam Reviews are also available for 10 of these courses ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, Web-Based Course Offerings: Fall 2011-Summer Aug. 15, Documents/CourseInfo/815112_Catalog_Fall11-Summer2012_ Web-BasedCourses.pdf (last visited Dec. 19, 2011). 22 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, Course Information. accessdl.state.al.us/courseinfo.html (last visited Dec. 19, 2011). Eleven high school level courses are available to 8th grade students, most of which can be taken by advanced/ accelerated students upon recommendation by a counselor and approval by a parent or guardian. 23 As mentioned earlier, remedial education courses for students taking the AHSGE are also available. These are designed to allow students to prepare for the AHSGE by providing practice materials and removing all time constraints and grading concerns. 24 Finally, 12 ACCESS courses are offered as Credit Recovery Courses (CRCs), which help students earn high school credits in courses they did not pass the first time around. 25 As students master particular subjects, they receive credit for the class. In rural districts, ACCESS courses are taken at a rate that is almost three times higher (2.7) than that of metropolitan districts (see Table 2). This is particularly true for courses 23 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, ACCESS Distance Learning 8th Grade Instructional Offerings. Aug. 12, accessdl.state.al.us/documents/courseinfo/81211_8th_grade_ ACCESS_InstrOfferingsFall2011-Spring2012.pdf (last visited Dec. 19, 2011). 24 ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, Web-Based Course Offerings: Fall 2011-Summer Aug. 15, 2011, supra. 25 In October 2011, two additional courses Algebra I and Algebra IB will be added to the CRC program. Source: ACCESS Distance Learning, Alabama State Department of Education, Welcome to ACCESS Distance Learning! (last visited Dec. 19, 2011). Alabama Policy Institute
11 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama 5 Table 2 ACCESS Course Participation by Population Type: Course Type Population Type Metropolitan Micropolitan Rural Art 0.3% 0.6% 0.5% Electives English Health Language Math Science Social Studies Total* 6.9% 13.5% 18.9% *Includes two courses not in ACCESS catalog. in math, health, science, and electives. In micropolitan districts, students also tend to take courses at a higher rate than in metropolitan districts, especially English, social studies, foreign languages, and art. Measuring the Success of ACCESS ISTE Evaluations Since its inception, ACCESS has been evaluated annually by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that manages educational training and collaborative contracts within states and schools districts. According to their most recent evaluation (October 2010), most teachers either agreed or strongly agreed that distance learning was helping: Facilitate social equity (4.35 out of 5 possible points); Provide economic benefits to students (4.12); Improve graduation rates (4.08); Improve Alabama s education system (4.08); Improve online teaching (4.03); and Improve post-high school successes (4.00) Bielefeldt, Roblyer & Olszewski, supra.
12 6 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama Anecdotal information from focus groups during the most recent evaluation suggests that students are being positively affected by ACCESS. According to their responses: Graduation rates have improved (some as much as 16 percent); Student confidence has risen, improving their attitudes toward learning; Students see themselves as competing on a global level; and Counselors can challenge more students to consider college after graduation. 27 In an earlier evaluation (May 2009), the ISTE found that most teachers were satisfied or very satisfied with the technical support, training, and administrative help they received from ACCESS. Almost 90 percent also agreed that ACCESS was achieving its goal of making high quality courses available to more Alabama students. 28 AP Outcomes If prior years of participation are an indicator, about five percent of the 15,008 students in school year taking AP courses did so via ACCESS. Likewise, because the percentage of students taking AP courses using ACCESS is so low, their influence on the state s average AP score is minimal. 29 However, improved ACCESS to AP courses should be viewed as providing opportunities for underserved students to be part of an emerging trend in Alabama education. 27 Id. 28 Gregory Sampson-Gruener, M. D. Roblyer, Talbot Bielefeldt, & Joan Schneidmiller, Third Year Report on the Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, & Students Statewide (ACCESS) Distance Learning Program. International Society for Technology in Education, May 15, ISTEREPORTONACCESSYR3FinalRevised.pdf. 29 As a part of their data policy, the College Board which administers AP tests only provides the number of students in each district who passed or failed AP exams to organizations with direct control over the district. Before ACCESS was initiated, the percentage of 11th and 12th grade students taking AP exams in Alabama was rising, but still in the single digits. By comparison, the participation rate for the nation as a whole was more than double that of Alabama from and continuing to grow. Since ACCESS began, the percentage of students taking AP tests in Alabama doubled from 7.5 percent in to 15.5 percent in (see Chart 1). Unfortunately, as the percentage of students taking AP tests continues to increase, students scores are regressing to the mean. Prior to ACCESS, the percentage of students in Alabama making at least a 3 on their AP test hovered between 55 and 61 percent. After the program was started, scores peaked at 61.5 percent in 2006 and have fallen every year since. During the school year, only 47.6 percent of students scored a 3 or better on their AP tests. Ongoing Challenges Facing ACCESS Despite the progress ACCESS has made in exposing students to courses and curricula that would otherwise be unavailable to them, several problems remain. Understanding Differences between ACCESS Senders and Receivers A significant challenge facing ACCESS and the ISTE is being able to compare the outcomes of students taking AP courses in schools sending content and those receiving it. These analyses are difficult because many of these schools have utilized ACCESS for different lengths of time, and schools that need to receive AP instruction at a distance are by definition less privileged than schools that initiate AP courses. Differences in results for initiating classrooms (where students receive instruction face-to-face) and receiving classrooms may be related to demographic variables and have nothing to do with mode of instruction. 30 Two additional challenges to successfully measuring outcomes in ACCESS have been adequate data collection 30 Bielefeldt, Roblyer & Olszewski, supra. Alabama Policy Institute
13 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama 7 Chart 1 Percentage of 11th and 12th Grade Students Taking AP Tests and Scoring a 3 or Better: Alabama and the U.S., Percent Taking AP (%) Percent Scoring 3+ (%) Alabama U.S. and data quality. Since ACCESS was started in the school year, both methods for calculating graduation rates and data storage and display have changed, making it difficult to conduct longitudinal analyses. ISTE- and ALSDE-initiated data collection has also been hampered by technical issues such as local firewalls that block student and teacher access to online survey instruments. This could introduce sampling bias. Respondents who were blocked from participating may have had opinions that were systematically different from those who were able to submit their surveys. 31 Improving AP Test Scores As mentioned earlier, ACCESS has helped to double the percentage of Alabama high school students taking AP courses, but as enrollment has surged, the percentage of students making satisfactory scores on their college credit tests has fallen. 31 Id.
14 8 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama Table 3 AP Courses Taken in Alabama, by Type and Average Score: School Year Course Number of Tests Taken Average Score (1-5) Calculus AB 1, English Language & Composition 1, English Literature & Composition 2, U.S. Government & Politics 1, U.S. History 1, One explanation for this trend could be as simple as a move towards the statistical mean for AP test results. As the number of students taking a test increases, the more their average score begins to resemble that of the larger population. Even in states with academic credentials that are consistently superior to the rest of the nation, only a fraction of high school students take AP classes, and even fewer make test grades that are high enough to qualify them for college credit. As ACCESS moves forward, program administrators should carefully watch for differences between ACCESS AP performance and the AP performance of students in traditional educational settings. ACCESS must ensure that students taking ACCESS AP courses have a comparable level of AP test preparation as their contemporaries. At present, the only criterion needed for a student to enter an AP class other than his or her desire to do so is a recommendation by a teacher from a previous class. If these recommendations are not thoughtfully considered, schools especially those receiving distance content could produce students who take but can t pass advanced courses. ACCESS could also introduce online, subject-specific pre-tests to identify the extent to which students are ready to take AP courses. These pre-tests would evaluate whether students seeking AP credit are adequately prepared for the challenges of the curriculum. As ACCESS seeks to improve its AP curriculum, it should focus on improving instruction in courses with large numbers of test takers and lower scores. According to data collected by the College Board, 32 the AP courses in Alabama with the highest numbers of test takers and the lowest average scores for the school year are in Table 3. These courses represent a few areas where ACCESS could adopt a Florida-style approach to course development. The Florida Virtual School creates high-quality content for each subject by encouraging collaboration between teams of instructors, web development specialists, project managers, and external instructional designers. By bringing together professionals with different areas of expertise, courses can be designed to maximize students learning experiences College Board, AP Summary Reports: www. collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/exgrd_sum/2010.html (last viewed Dec. 19, 2011). 33 Sharon Johnston, Teaching Any Time, Any Place, Any Pace, in Development and Management of Virtual Schools: Issues and Trends, in Development And Management Of Virtual Schools: Issues And Trends (Cathy Cavanaugh, ed., 2004). Alabama Policy Institute
15 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama 9 Conclusion Distance learning has the potential to change the lives of students and communities. ACCESS has already made tremendous progress in creating a world-class distance learning program. ALSDE must continue to ensure that parents across Alabama are aware of ACCESS opportunities available to their children. As parents, teachers, and legislators look for answers to improve education in Alabama, expanding and improving ACCESS should be an integral part of the solution.
16 10 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama Alabama Policy Institute
17 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama 11 Appendix A: Web-Based Course Offerings for ACCESS Distance Learning, Discipline Subject Audience Grades Credit Notes Mathematics Algebra I AA8 Algebra IA 9 1 CRC1 Algebra IB 9 1 Geometry CRC2 Algebra II Algebra II w/ Trigonometry Precalculus AP Calculus AB CBA AP Statistics CBA Science Physical Science 9 1 CRC12 Biology Chemistry CPC Environmental Science Physics CPC Marine Science CPC AP Chemistry CBA AP Biology CBA English English CRC3 English CRC4 English CRC5 English CRC6
18 12 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama Discipline Subject Audience Grades Credit Notes English (cont d.) AP English Language and Composition CBA AP English Literature and Composition 12 1 CBA Social Studies World History: 1500 to Present 9 1 CRC7 U.S. History to CRC8 U.S. History from 1877 to the Present 11 1 CRC9 Economics 12 ½ CRC10 U.S. Government 12 ½ CRC11 AP U.S. History 11 1 CBA AP U.S. Government and Politics 12 ½ CBA AP Macroeconomics 12 ½ CBA Foreign Languages Spanish I AA8 Spanish II Spanish III Spanish IV Latin I AA8 Latin II Latin III French I AA8 French II French III German I AA8 Alabama Policy Institute
19 Classes Without Walls: ACCESS Distance Learning Works for Alabama 13 Discipline Subject Audience Grades Credit Notes Foreign Languages (cont d.) German II German III Mandarin Chinese I AA8 Mandarin Chinese II AP Spanish CBA Electives Creative Writing ½ Business Technology Applications AA8 Global Studies (Contemporary Issues) Personal Finance ½ Accounting Nutrition and Wellness (Dietetics) ½ Reading (Reading 2 Succeed) ½ Sociology ½ Workforce Essentials Web Design I (Multimedia Design) Web Design II (Information Technology) Computer Programming BASIC I ½ AP Computer Science A CBA Psychology ½ AP Psychology CBA