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Learning Technology > Maine Online Learning Program > Approved Online Learning Providers > Apex Learning Application

 

VLACS's 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. URLs linking to supporting evidence are also acceptable.

VLACS is a public, non-profit school and nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and operations. VLACS mission is to use the latest technology to provide our students with anytime, unlimited access to a rigorous, personalized education that helps students learn today, graduate tomorrow and prepare for the future.

The VLACS provides equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, age or disability for employment in participation in admission or access to, or operation and administration of any educational program or activity in the school.


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.

VLACS’s middle school and high school courses are aligned to existing Maine academic standards (NECAP) to ensure that Maine students will either meet or exceed Maine’s standards along with rigorous course competencies. VLACS is currently aligning its courses to the Common Core State Standards as they become the standard of measure beginning in 2014- 15. Additionally there is an extensive offering of Advanced Placement and dual credit courses where students are awarded high school credit and college credit from either Southern NH University or the Community College System of NH.

Course competencies have been developed for each high school course and are aligned with GSEs. It will be possible for any school to use our online search tool to see the competencies and GSEs for any high school course. Competencies have not been developed for middle school courses, but these courses are aligned with existing NECAP GLEs. Courses also meet national standards where applicable or currently available.

VLACS core courses have been approved by the NCAA and our Advanced Placement courses are audited on an annual basis. Additionally, dual credit courses have been developed in collaboration with Southern New Hampshire University and the Community College System of New Hampshire. Each course has undergone multiple revisions and improvements and are comprehensively vetted both internally and externally. Moreover, all courses are taught by certified and experienced instructors who are regularly supervised and monitored both in face to face and online environments. Survey results indicate that the majority of students and parents agree that the quality of the courses offered by the school is at least equal to those offered by traditional schools. Course credit recovery, acceleration, and completing graduation requirements are all examples of how VLACS courses are used to meet both local and state proficiency standards.

All VLACS courses are segmented with modules that include a variety of assessments ranging from oral assessments by the instructor with individual students; to open ended essay and short answer responses; to the traditional standardized testing formats(multiple choice, fill in the blank, etc.); and finally project-based assessments that generally includes a range of opportunity for student choice. Additionally all segments include a final exam that must be proctored by a VLACS approved adult that will be sent a password to access the exam and monitor the student while taking the exam to insure academic integrity. Finally, all course modules include a competency based assessment that asks students to apply key course understandings and demonstrate higher order thinking skills associated with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and better measuring college and career readiness.

Schools may access course competencies and related standards on the VLACS website. We are currently updating our database to include the Common Core Standards. Access our competency and curriculum standards database.


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 VLACS instructors are certified with the New Hampshire Department of Education (NHDOE), are experienced educators, and are highly qualified under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). It should also be noted that most of our instructors have advanced degrees. Currently VLACS has 148 NHDOE certified instructors on staff residing primarily in New England, including Maine.

Upon approval and as requested, VLACS will provide a current list of teachers who will teach Maine students.


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.

VLACS has developed a rigorous process for hiring, training and providing ongoing (virtual and face to face) professional development. All teachers meet highly qualified status as well as meet or exceed all NHDOE teacher certification requirements. To assure instructional quality, VLACS has developed and integrated the Instructor Phases of Development into its hiring process which includes multiple days and training sessions for new instructors both before and following the assignment of students. Instructors proceed through additional phases of development during their VLACS career. Following the Inductee phase, additional professional development and benchmarks to be met include: Instructor in Training, Apprentice Instructor, and Instructor. Individuals can also achieve Master Instructor status by meeting and exceeding instructional standards and expectations. Throughout all segments of Instructor Phases of Development process, instructors are provided with support by mentors, peer coaches, and professional development activities.

In addition to the formidable training standards our new instructors must meet, all instructors must also satisfy VLACS’s Instructional Standards and Expectations; and are regularly monitored by administrators through a comprehensive classroom walkthrough process, evaluation and state-of-the- art student/parent surveys. Additionally all teachers must meet professional development recertification standards through VLACS’s NHDOE approved Professional Development Master Plan.

Additionally, VLACS hosts an annual instructors’ conference that all instructors are required to attend for face-to-face training and updates. This builds a sense of community and collegiality that extends out virtually throughout the year with well-attended online professional development options and opportunities. Examples of some of the successful ongoing activities include: Critical Friends Groups and other forms of professional learning communities, scheduled professional development sessions with targeted and timely topics, regularly scheduled ‘collegial conversations’, and quarterly all staff meetings.


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.

Students, parents, teachers, and administrators continuously measure and receive reports on student progress and achievement gains during a student’s enrollment in a course(s), both through the student information system(SIS) and learning management system(LMS). Using these systems, VLACS delivers the curriculum across a broad spectrum of access points for students; and allows for 24/7 access for parents and instructors to view student progress. Additionally, local school officials can access the SIS system to see ‘real time’ student progress for their students taking a VLACS course(s); see teacher communication with students; and access student grades or unofficial transcripts. These systems provide each student with an anytime, anyplace, any pace personalized learning experience.

SInce VLACS’s courses are competency based, attendance is measured by meeting all course competencies rather than through attendance or seat time. During the introductory welcome call by an instructor to each student and parent/guardian and subsequent 28 day grace period at the start of each course enrollment/enablement, a pace chart is established for course progress that often corresponds with the typical semester/trimester/quarter of a school schedule. However, the initial pace is often adjusted if a student needs more time to demonstrate understanding of a competency, or is able to accelerate his or her pace.

Students, teachers, parents, and appropriate stakeholders will be using the following virtual management tools as part of the VLACS teaching and learning experience:
Learning Management System (LMS) VLACS’s LMS is an intuitive, web-based software platform. It provides access to more than 22,000 online lessons and courses; lesson/unit/term assessments; hands-on activities; alternative learning approaches; classroom collaboration tools; and optional and supplemental lessons and activities, as well as lesson planning and scheduling tools and progress tracking tools. Students, parents and teachers can access the LMS with an Internet connection at any time.

There are multiple forms of assessments that each student must take, and those assessments along with lessons, teacher/student forums, classrooms, tutorials and other tools to assist student learning and multiple levels of communication are accessed through the LMS. Assessments include written essays, open ended writing responses, short answer quizzes and tests, oral exams, mid course and final exams. All the assessments in each module are anchored to a competency assessment where a student must demonstrate mastery in order to pass the course. The oral assessments in each module between the student and instructor along with the proctored mid course and final exams insure academic integrity. Since all courses are competency based, seat time or attendance is not measured by a calendar. Rather, a student moves through a course as he/she demonstrates mastery with some students finishing sooner than a traditional school semester/year, and others needing extended time. As part of the welcome email and call that an instructor has with the student and parent, a pace for working through the course is established, and adjusted throughout the course to meet individual student needs.

Student Information System (SIS) Attendance Between the LMS and SIS, and as previously noted, attendance is determined differently from the traditional school/academic year. Attendance is not tied to seat time; rather it is measured by mastery of course competencies that are aligned to state and national standards. Time for meeting competencies will vary for individual students, however, the systems will track the actual time spent in the course as well as on each assignment and lesson by individual students.

Student Progress Student progress, both with level of achievement on formative and summative assessments, and advancement toward course completion is tracked and can be accessed by parents and students 24/7. All students gain access to the course through a welcome call placed to the student’s home by his/her instructor, where expectations, potential options for personalizing the course, anticipating challenges, and course pace are determined before a student begins.

Once a student begins the course, an instructor maintains close communication with both parents and students that goes well beyond the consistent interactions of the coursework and assessments. Monthly progress reports are sent to parents, and more importantly, a monthly phone call is placed to the home where an instructor will update a student’s progress with both the parents and students. Additional electronic correspondence or calls are made to address specific areas of concern as needed. Once a course is complete, an official transcript can be mailed to a student’s home, and an unofficial transcript can be downloaded from the SIS at any time by parents(or guardians) and school officials if a student is enrolled at a Maine school and is also taking courses through VLACS. Additionally, as students take multiple courses over time, the SIS provides overview of their students’ current progress and history.

Assessments As previously noted, credit for courses are based on students meeting course competencies and summative assessments tied to those competencies must score 75% or higher. There are a multitude of formative assessments for each course as well. Each course segment has a wide variety of assessments, and the integrity of the assessment process is a priority with administration, instructors, the NHDOE, and ultimately all schools accepting VLACS course credit. Multiple processes and strategies are in place to insure course integrity and the assessment categories include:

? Essays
? Open Ended Writing Responses
? Short Writing Response
? Short Answer Responses
? Multiple Choice Quizzes
? Oral Exams*
? Course Segment Exams**

* Each course segment is broken into modules, and each module includes an oral assessment that an instructor conducts with an individual student by phone or through VLACS Communicator which has both audio and video capabilities. This contact, along with the monthly call made to students and parents also allows an instructor to also check on earlier student work and assessments; and more accurately assess understanding.

** All course Segment Exams (midterms, finals, etc.) are password protected. Passwords are sent to an approved proctor, who will open the exam for the student and supervise him/her during the exam to completion.

Maine Comprehensive Assessment System (MeCAS)/Advanced Placement/SAT Standardized measures and results are in place for determining the effectiveness of VLACS curriculum and instruction. Students enrolled full time with VLACS will be required to participate in the applicable components of the Maine Comprehensive Assessment System (MeCAS). While Maine is moving to the Common Core State Standards exam in 2014-15, grade 11 students currently take the SAT to measure student achievement and AYP. VLACS offers a comprehensive SAT Prep course as an elective high school credit.

Beyond the course assessments, both full time and part time VLACS students have fared well in all standardized measures:

  • NECAP Exams - Full time VLACS students have scored at or above state averages in all applicable demographics (gender, academic category, etc.)
  • SATs - VLACS full time students have consistently averaged higher SAT scores than both the state(NH) and national averages for all categories.
  • Advanced Placement Courses and Exams - VLACS students completing our College Board audited and approved courses and taking AP course exams exceed national test score averages.
  • Dual Enrollment for High School and College Credit - VLACS students are able to enroll in dual enrollment courses that award college credit from the Community College System of New Hampshire and Southern New HAmpshire University. The completion rate for these courses exceeds 90%.


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.

The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School conducts all required background checks to be compliant with federal and New Hampshire laws, as well as meet the requirements of the New Hampshire Department of Education.

The background check for all staff meets or exceeds Maine’s section 6103 and includes:

  • Fingerprinting and national sex offender/criminal background check.
  • Education and employment verification check.
  • Professional license verification. All administrative and instructional staff are professionally certified in NH, which also verifies and monitors background status for all active certifications.


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.

The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School strives for compliance with the accessibility standards promulgated by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).