Course review requirements
Updated September 25, 2018
Quality assurance in K-12 online learning has been and continues to be one of the driving forces for improving the field. Online course reviews are considered one of the most essential quality assurance measures by successful online learning programs. Though policy has a hard time keeping up with practice in the field, in seeing the crucial importance of online course reviews, some states have begun to require them. The states that include online course review requirements are typically course choice states, sometimes called course access states. These states take the idea of school choice and bring that to the level of the course. According to Bailey et al. (2014), “Course Access programs are intended to provide students with expanded access to educational opportunities by supplementing existing curricular options offered by students’ schools with courses offered by third party providers in online, blended, and/or face to-face formats (depending on the state)” (p. 7).
Some of the states offering course choice include but are not limited to Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and Minnesota. Each state’s implementation of their course review process is different. States employ the course review process in order to hold third-party providers accountable for the courses they offer. Two international organizations have been providing guidance for course reviews in the K-12 online arena, including the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and Quality Matters. iNACOL recently announced that they would not be updating the Quality Online Course Standards, so Quality Matters and the Virtual School Leadership Alliance are working on updating those standards. Quality Matters (QM) is an internationally-recognized, research-based “non-profit, quality assurance organization” with a goal to help online programs develop and deliver the most effective online courses for their learners. While QM started out concentrated in higher education, over the past several years, they have built a robust course review process as well as a course review training program focused on K-12 online courses.
Some states, like Michigan, use the iNACOL Quality Online Course Standards as well as QM review processes for accountability purposes. Michigan has a course catalog (https://micourses.org/) that offers clear information about courses that are available as well as who the providers are, so that parents and students can make an informed decision when enrolling in an online course. Michigan legislative recommendations urge school districts to enroll in professional development specific to course review so that there is consistency from one program to the next when reviewing courses. Districts have also been asked to seek course review certificates for the third party providers they are considering. Within the course catalog, each course is rated based on the 52 iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses. Additionally, the catalog includes a syllabi, student performance data, as well as the number of students enrolled and the number of students who earned 60% or more of the total course points.
Similar to Michigan, Louisiana’s Supplemental Course Academy (SCA) offers students across the state a range of course offerings. SCA is open to not only high school students but also to middle students who are considered advanced (dual enrollment, CTE, etc). Third party providers must be approved at the state level and go through a rigorous review process. After the state application review process, providers are then required to present their proposed course content to a three-person interview team, which includes two representatives at the Department of Education (DOE) as well as an external expert. The process of being accepted as a course provider does not mean that the applicant’s courses are accepted. The Course Choice Chief Academic Officer at the DOE must review the proposed course. If approved, the third party provider and the DOE sign a course provider agreement. If the third party provider is in good standing with the DOE, they can offer additional courses as long as their courses continue to meet quality standards upon rigorous review. At any time, if a third party provider is not meeting the DOE’s expectations, that provider can be put on probation and subsequently terminated if need arises.
In addition to Louisiana, Texas is also a course access state and offers supplemental online courses to students as well as fully online options to districts interested in offering a fully-online program on their campus. The Texas Commissioner of Education oversees the process of ensuring quality online courses, which is carried out by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The TEA uses three sets of standards to evaluate the courses, including the state level curriculum standards or the College Board standards for AP courses, the iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses, and the Texas Virtual School Network’s (TxVSN) accessibility guidelines. Once approved, there is an agreement process where all entities, including the students, parents, course providers, and districts must agree on their responsibilities for the student’s success. TxVSN also, as part of their quality assurance model, requires course providers to promise not to exceed a set number of students for the course enrollment.
The last example of course review requirements is set by the state of Minnesota, which has had a long history of school choice options. Course providers must be approved by the Minnesota Department of education. There is a legislation that now requires courses are verified to meet state academic standards. During the course review process, the provider is reviewed by four stakeholders including two representatives from the Department of Education as well as two from the district or school level. Only after that review process will the course provider be allowed to offer online courses in the state of Minnesota. These course review processes continue to be improved upon as policy catches up to practice.
Bailey, J., Martin, N., Coleman, A., Taylor, T., Leichty, R., & Palmer, S. (2014). Leading in an era of change: Making the most of course access programs. Digital Learning Now and Education Counsel. Retrieved from http://digitallearningnow.com/site/uploads/2014/07/DLN-CourseAc-cess-FINAL_14July2014b.pdf