Assessment & Accountability

Assessment and Accountability

The following content includes contributions made by: A National Primer on K12 Online Learning: Version 2, Matthew Wicks and iNACOL, November 2010.

As you see from this module, assessment and grading is as important in an online or blended program as in a brick-and-mortar classroom. An online student typically completes a variety of formative and summative assessments that the teacher will use in determining the student's grade.

Supplemental Courses: For students taking individual online or blended courses in combination with traditional classes as part of their brick-and-mortar school program, online or blended course grades become part of their overall grade point average. Their school transcript may or may not specify whether the course was delivered fully or partially online.

Beyond the assessments online and blended teachers create for their courses, students' mastery of concepts learned in supplemental online courses may also be assessed through standardized tests such as high school exit exams. However, in settings where the course content is purchased from private vendors, the online course provider is typically not responsible for administering these tests. Rather, the student's "home" school, where she or he is officially enrolled, is held accountable for student performance on these standardized assessments.

One exception to the typical accountability pattern described above are the online Advanced Placement (AP) courses. For AP courses, online AP course providers track these results carefully and disclose them as part of key course information.

Full-time (cyberschool) Programs: These programs have full accountability for all student assessments. As with all public schools, cyberschool students must take required state assessments. Test administration can be a complex task, especially for programs serving most or all of an entire state. This challenge is exacerbated by the need for students to travel to testing sites during the customary testing dates set by the state, leaving the best-laid testing plans vulnerable to early spring snowstorms and other weather challenges. One solution to this challenge would be to allow online schools to model Virginia's fully web-based, distributed testing online assessment system. Some programs have begun to allow remote test-taking but require students to have a webcam that is monitored by the test proctor.

Man looking at data on iPad

In addition to the challenges for cyberschools, states may be missing an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of testing by requiring the assessments be in physical locations in a paper format. The U.S. Department of Education noted in a 2004 report, "One of the major requirements for NCLB is annual assessment of students in core subjects beginning with reading and math. [T]he traditional paper-based approach [of annual assessments] has several downsides—including untimely feedback which takes 4-6 months to generate results, high costs associated with administrative overhead and use of multiple resources to duplicate, administer, collect, collate, code, score and analyze data." The report also noted, "Computer-based, technology-based, or online assessments hold the possibility of revolutionizing both how assessments are implemented and how student data inform teaching and learning."1

1United States Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2004). Helping Practitioners Meet the Goals of No Child Left Behind