The state agency that oversees virtual schools has proposed a new grading system to improve oversight of the schools, which have experienced persistent low academic performance coupled with climbing enrollment.

The performance framework proposed by the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board combines 48 indicators of student achievement, financial and organizational standards to evaluate the schools each year. The indicators include student test scores, graduation rates, ACT scores and participation, and college and career readiness opportunities. Scoring less than 70 percent during the charter’s contract term would place the school at risk of non-renewal.

Statewide Virtual Charter School Board members are expected to discuss the framework proposal at a meeting scheduled for Aug. 15. The proposal was developed in response to a requirement under the Charter School Act.

Under the proposal, schools that receive a score of less than 70 percent are at risk of nonrenewal.

The proposed framework is separate from, and in addition to, the state’s A-F report card system. It also has a narrower focus, intended to set expectations for the charter schools the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board authorizes; currently there are four schools.

The state’s A-F school report card is in the midst of a complete overhaul to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

All charter schools, including virtual schools, currently receive a letter grade and that will likely continue, an Education Department spokeswoman said. The new A-F system may, however, assign different indicators or weights to specific types of schools, like virtual and alternative.

David Chaney, co-founder and superintendent of Epic Charter Schools, the state’s largest virtual school, said school administrators are still studying the framework.

“The public should understand that this framework does not replace our accountability to the State Department of Education’s A-F system,” he said. “We will continue to be evaluated by that system, too. All schools sponsored by the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board are subject to more accountability now than all other public schools.”

About 13,000 Oklahoma students enrolled in a virtual charter school in the 2016-2017 school year. Each of the state’s four schools is run by a for-profit company and receives state funding based on enrollment.

Rebecca Wilkinson, executive director of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, said the new proposal was developed with input from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center and virtual school administrators. The board sponsors four virtual schools: Epic Charter Schools, Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, Oklahoma Connections Academy and Insight School of Oklahoma.

Different from A-F Report Card

Virtual schools tend to attract non-traditional students, such as drop-outs or those falling behind, students with health issues or who have been bullied, or athletes who want a flexible schedule, school leaders and parents say.

The proposed system is different from the A-F report card in several ways specific to virtual schools.

For instance, graduation will be measured three ways: a four-year rate, an extended-year adjusted rate, and the rate of eligible seniors who graduate. Schools could receive points for meeting or exceeding the statewide average four-year graduation rate, which was 83 percent in 2016, or by making significant improvements over two years.

Chaney, of Epic, has previously said it would be fair to measure graduation with a five- or six- year cohort because students sometimes come to the school needing to catch up or are older than 18 but seeking a high school diploma.

The virtual schools reported four-year graduation rates of between 21 percent and 56 percent in 2016; all schools received Cs, Ds and Fs on the state A-F report card.

Another difference is the way the proposed system reports reading and math scores for all students but also separately for students enrolled two years and three or more years. That would give schools the opportunity to earn more points if students continue to improve year after year.

“The learning curve that first year is challenging for students. And often when they come in credit-deficient or two or three grade levels behind, they won’t be proficient on the state test in the first year even if they made a full year’s growth,” said Sheryl Tatum, who heads the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy.

Charter school authorizers are required to measure “achievement gaps in both proficiency and growth between major student subgroups,” but the proposal doesn’t use racial and ethnic groups. The subgroups are special education students and economically disadvantaged ones.

Statewide school accountability systems are required under ESSA to use racial and ethnic subgroups, such as black and Hispanic students, to examine the academic achievement gap. Oklahoma’s plan for subgroups is a somewhat controversial part of the state’s new A-F system.

Epic Charter Schools, the state’s oldest and largest virtual school, is expanding in 2017-2018 with a blended model school, where students receive virtual instruction at one of two locations, one each in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The blended model school is authorized by Rose State College, not the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

Under the law, the framework is to include at least these nine measures: academic proficiency, academic growth, achievement gaps in proficiency and growth between major student subgroups, student attendance, recurrent enrollment from year to year, graduation rates, postsecondary readiness, financial performance and sustainability, and governing board performance and stewardship.

Virtual schools will be required to track and report attendance under a new law that takes effect Jan. 1.

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