Connections Academy Application for the Maine Online Learning Program
1. The online learning provider must be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices and operations.
Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. In the box below, list the documents you intend to email. URLs linking to supporting evidence are also acceptable.
The Connections Academy online learning program is used by state public education agencies, public school districts, and public charter schools in 20 states around the nation, all of which require providers to be nonsectarian. Furthermore, in it admissions policies, employment practices, and operations, Connections Academy is both nonsectarian and committed to a policy of educational and workplace equality.
Accordingly, all of our programs, both public and private, admit students and conducts all educational programs, activities, and employment practices without regard to ethnic group identification, race, national origin, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, religion, age, sex, color, physical or mental disability, or any other legally protected classification. Additionally, our programs meet or exceed all national, state, and local requirements for nonsectarian admissions policies, employment practices, and operations.
Copies of both our Employee Handbook and admissions policies are available upon request.
2. Each course offered for a unit of credit must correlate with applicable state-adopted academic standards prior to being offered. All courses must include assessments.
Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. Provide an example of a correlation report that demonstrates how a course offered by your organization aligns with state standards. Upon request, within 5 business days an approved Online Learning Provider must be prepared to provide either the Department, or the school administrative unit, a correlation report for any online course being offered.
As demonstrated in the e-emailed graphic and alignment sample, Connections Academy courses correlate with applicable Maine academic standards. The graphic shows the process by which Connections Academy correlates its courses to these academic standards: Our curriculum specialists compare the standards to each course’s objectives and activities, which typically results in 90% direct correlation. Any gaps identified are then filled either through additional curriculum development OR through a combination of targeted LiveLesson synchronous Web sessions and course modifications carried out by the teacher of the course.
To be emailed:
- 6th grade sample alignment
- Alignment to common core
- Graphic of curriculum alignment
3. A teacher employed by the online learning provider and providing instruction to students must hold a valid teaching certificate in each content area being taught or receive approval from the commissioner to teach the course.
Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. Provide a list of those teachers who teach Maine students that includes: the name of the certified teacher, the content areas in which they are certified, the State in which their certification was obtained, and the expiration date of the certification. This list must be updated June 30th and December 30th of each year for which the online learning provider is listed, to reflect changes following the initial application and approval.
All of Connections Academy school staff (both teachers and administrators) hold the certifications and credentials required for the subjects they teach. Many of them have earned advanced degrees. The average experience for our teaching staff is 9 years. Upon acceptance, Connections Academy will begin the hiring process and will furnish the names, certifications, certified content areas, and certification expiration dates.
4. A teacher employed by the online learning provider must receive appropriate preservice and in-service training pertaining to the organization of the online classroom, programs and courses, the technical aspects of online education, the monitoring of student assessment and other pertinent training.
Describe the pre-service and in-service training, as outlined above, that is provided to teachers in your organization.
The Connections Academy teacher training and professional development programs aim to equip teachers with the following:
- A working knowledge of the Connections Academy curriculum and how to implement it in a virtual environment
- Strategies and best practices for virtual learning and instruction
- How to use and navigate the tools of the Learning Management System (LMS)
- How to develop personalized learning plans and individualized instructional programs
- Forms of assessment and how to use test results and data to guide instruction
- Knowledge of school processes and policies
- How to foster a virtual school community
Detailed descriptions of all of the professional development/training elements outlined below are available upon request.
Training / Professional Development Elements
The following training programs are provided to Connections Academy teachers:
- Teacher Orientation and Program Handbook Courses. The materials below have been developed exclusively by Connections Academy.
Teacher Orientation Course
All new teachers (and principals) complete a self-guided, Connections Academy-developed teacher orientation course. This course contains actual lessons, assessments, and links to online tutorials. It covers “the basics” including: curriculum, assessments, personalizing instruction, school-year events, grading, communication, and essential LMS tools. Teachers must complete this course within their first 30 days of employment with an overall score of 80% or higher.
Returning Teacher Orientation Course
As with the Teacher Orientation Course, this course contains lessons, assessments, and links to online tutorials. It includes information and tips about procedures, LMS features, and instructional programs that are new or updated for the current school year. Returning teachers must complete the course’s assessment with an overall score of 80% or higher during the first 30 days of the school year.
Adjunct Teacher Orientation Course
The Adjunct Teacher Orientation Course is a mandatory, graded component of the Teacher Training Program designed specifically for Connections Academy’s part-time teachers. Adjunct teachers complete brief assessments throughout the course and must complete the entire course with an overall score of 80% or better within their first 30 days of employment.
Once school is up and running, Connections Academy presents more segments of the training courses to teachers on an ongoing basis. These segments contain information about more complex features and functions of the LMS, instructional processes, and processes that teachers need to implement once school is successfully under way.
Connections Academy Professional Development Sessions
Connections Academy provides teachers with ongoing professional development activities throughout the year. Presenters with various backgrounds and areas of content expertise conduct live tutorial sessions on a rotating basis throughout the school year.
As noted above, teachers complete online assessments to evaluate their understanding of the concepts included in their Teacher Orientation courses. Audits, evaluations, and site visits are used to gauge the effectiveness of the training and to ensure initiatives are implemented with high fidelity. Upon successful completion of the professional development session, teachers earn professional development hours.
University-level Online Instruction Course
After teachers successfully complete the Connections Academy-developed training courses, they have the opportunity to enroll in an online graduate-level course specially designed for Connections Academy teachers that focuses on online instructional practices. In addition, Connections Academy has a new partnership with American Public University whereby teachers can take courses to enhance their skills.
Connections Academy Leadership Academy
Connections Academy cultivates exceptional leadership capability through extensive professional mentoring and through a series of training sessions that focus on administrative, policy, and operational issues.
Professional Learning Community (PLC)
The Connections Academy Professional Learning Community is a community of educators dedicated to shared values and vision, working and learning collaboratively, shared decision-making, collective creativity, and supportive and shared leadership.
5. The online learning provider must verify ongoing student attendance and progress and performance in each course as documented by ongoing assessments in a proctored environment and provide examples of student course work.
Describe how attendance, progress and performance are assessed, and also the level to which assessments are typically proctored online and/or locally.
The Connections Academy system tracks and monitors ongoing student attendance based on the objective numeric data generated by the Learning Management System (LMS), including student contact with Connections Academy teachers, time-on-task, and completion of lessons and assessments. The student’s status (On-Track, Approaching Alarm, and Alarm) is displayed on the teacher home pages for continuous (real-time) identification of potential problems. This tool and the procedures surrounding its use help the school manage students by intervening with students who need additional support to succeed.
Connections Academy provides granular information about student progress in three ways:
- A grade book integrated within the Learning Management System (LMS) allows all users to view grades from both electronic assessments (immediate and automatic postings) and written work (posted by teachers after work is reviewed). They can also view missed, skipped, and upcoming assignments. The grade book is available
24 hours per day, 7 days a week, and is continuously updated.
- Progress reports are created and posted at specific intervals based on a schedule set by the school, as mutually agreed by the customer (for example, the Maine Online Learning Program). All reports include measures of academic performance as well as the amount of progress the student demonstrated (i.e., the number of assignments he or she completed) for the given period of time. Some reports also have specific teacher feedback and comments.
- An official copy of a transcript is issued at the completion of the semester and/or school year, and upon withdrawal or transfer from the program. These official transcripts have school signatures, raised seals, and are sent in a sealed envelope.
The Connections Academy curriculum includes more than 9,500 assessments with over 92,000 assessment items, which are deployed to measure students’ knowledge at different levels for each curriculum standard while ensuring that the student is completing his or her own work. Connections Academy’s educational approach, known as Personalized Performance Learning®, is based on a Personalized Learning Plan for every student specifically designed to maximize student achievement through careful, diverse assessment approaches that then drive tailoring of curriculum and instruction while ensuring academic integrity. Tests are either overseen by designated Learning Coaches or proctored at specific locations as mandated by state requirements.
Specific Connections Academy assessment protocols utilize a blend of synchronous and asynchronous tools, LiveLesson® sessions (a synchronous Web conferencing tool using audio and video), and include the following:
- Quick Checks – Brief online assessments that provide automatic feedback for students, Learning Coaches, and teachers
- Quizzes – Short online assessments that provide automatic feedback for students and teachers
- Portfolio Items – Student work such as written compositions, lab reports, short answer paragraphs, essays, book responses, and other various assignments that require teacher evaluation
- Graded Discussions – Teacher-monitored and evaluated “class discussions” in which students post thoughts, ideas, and reactions in a designated discussion board following specific assignment guidelines outlined in the curriculum; not used in all grade levels
- Unit Tests – Substantial end-of-unit assessments, both online and offline, provide students, learning coaches, and teachers with more comprehensive information about a student’s understanding of the instructed material
- Audio/Visual Assessments – Integrated into some courses, such as foreign languages and speech and debate, these assessments allow students to record themselves and submit the recording to their teachers.
- Curriculum-based assessments (CBAs) – A quick and effective way of gathering formative information on students’ understanding of concepts, these mandatory, regularly scheduled phone conversations between the teacher and student offer a valuable opportunity to ensure academic integrity and assess academic progress. Teachers conduct two types of CBAs: verified curriculum-based assessment (VCBA) and diagnostic curriculum-based assessment (DCBA).
In addition to formal graded assignments, teachers continuously monitor student work via the LMS, noting performance on auto-graded quizzes and checks for understanding, and reaching out to students via telephone Curriculum-Based Assessments to verify student work and/or diagnose difficulties in mastering distinct skills and concepts. As previously mentioned, teachers are empowered to add, skip, or modify learning activities to align with a student’s needs and performance.
All assessments items are either developed by the Connections Academy curriculum team or licensed from our textbook partners; all assessment items are reviewed by our testing specialists. Because these assessments are given to thousands of students across the country, they can be regularly analyzed for reliability and accuracy. On an annual basis, the Connections Academy curriculum team analyzes all assessments down to the item level to determine which ones are working and which ones need adjustments. Additionally, throughout the year, teachers identify any potential issues with assessments and submit them to the curriculum team for immediate updates.
As mentioned earlier, Curriculum-Based Assessments (CBAs) are among the best means to verify student comprehension and to ensure academic integrity. CBAs are mandatory and regularly scheduled. This oral testing serves as an important measure of student performance, independent of other assessment tools. Students whose performance on CBAs suggests cheating on unit tests or other graded assessments are subject to a variety of corrective measures, including in some cases administration of a repeat test in person with a designated proctor.
Connections Academy also uses CheckMyWork, a plagiarism-checking tool available to both students and teachers. The tool is employed extensively to ensure the academic originality of written work, including essay questions, portfolio assignments, and other assessed items. Connections Academy maintains strict policies on academic integrity, including both cheating and plagiarism.
6. Administrators, teachers and other educational staff employed by the online learning provider must comply with the fingerprinting and national criminal history record check requirements as set forth in section 6103.
Provide evidence of the protocol your organization uses to meet national criminal history record checks. Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this.
Connections Academy, LLC conducts background checks for all staff members who work with individuals identified as vulnerable by state law. All background checks are required to report that there are no findings that would prohibit the member from performing the services associated with their position description. EBI, Inc is our background check vendor and the following checks are conducted:
- County criminal checks for addresses over the last 7 years
- Educational credentials check
- Social security check
- Sex offender check or U.S. criminal indicator search
7. The online learning program must comply with the State's information technology accessibility policies and standards. Maine’s information technology accessibility policies and standards can be found here:
a. Web accessibility
b. Software accessibility
Describe how your organization complies with these standards and/or provide a copy of the organization’s policy document that demonstrates evidence of this.
Connections Academy is fully compliant with IDEIA and has extensive experience in meeting the needs of students with disabilities in a virtual school environment. Not only is user satisfaction high among Connections Academy students with special needs, but Connections Academy-affiliated schools that have been audited by their states for special education compliance have passed these audits with flying colors.
Connections Academy has also demonstrated that it meets the program’s requirements for compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, its amendments, and implementing regulations, which prescribe nondiscrimination on the basis of handicap in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Of the 25,000 students who will have been enrolled in Connections Academy-affiliated schools during 2009-10, about 12% are students whose disabilities require either a 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) as prescribed by IDEA (see below). This percentage mirrors the traditional public schools but is higher than typical for virtual schools. Connections Academy provides all necessary curricular, instructional, and technological modifications to meet these students’ identified needs.
In compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Connections Academy system is accessible by all users, including successful modification with assistive technologies such as screen readers or special keyboards. Connections Academy has extensive real-world experience in providing such accommodations.
Lastly, the Learning Management System strives for compliance with W3C’s standards for HTML, CSS, and XML validation. In situations where it is not possible to be 100% compliant with W3C’s standards due to browser implementation differences, Connections Academy’s rigorous approach to testing verifies that our Web application works correctly and consistently across major browsers on both PCs and Macs.
Connections Academy’s technological specifications can be found at the link below.