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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools - Recommendation to Place Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School on Probation

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
October 10, 2014

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Pursuant to the regulations for Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools (CMVS) at 603 CMR 52.12(2), I recommend that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) place the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School (GCVS) on probation in order to allow for the implementation of a remedial plan. My recommendation is based primarily upon my concerns regarding the academic performance and governance of this virtual school, which has declined each year since 2010.

Placing GCVS on probation signals clear concern about the school and the hope that GCVS can fulfill the probationary conditions and offer a successful educational program to the students it serves. Based upon the success-or lack thereof-of GCVS in meeting the conditions imposed and in alleviating the causes of its probation, I will recommend further action as appropriate.

Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School
Year Opened2010 as an innovation school and 2013 as a CMVSYear(s) Renewed
(if applicable)
N/A
Permitted Grade SpanK-12Current Grade SpanK-12
Permitted enrollment 11,000Current Enrollment2715
Students on Waitlist2156: 19 (K-5), 41 (6-8), 96 (9-12)Years of Operation5th year as a virtual school,
2nd year as a CMVS
Mission: The mission of the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School is to provide a standards-based, Massachusetts public education to students statewide who cannot or do not attend a brick-and-mortar school. The school will serve primarily students in selected target groups, as indicated in the enrollment preferences.

Background

In 2010, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy (MAVA), of Greenfield Public Schools, began operations as a virtual innovation school, approved by the Greenfield Public Schools. In 2010-11 MAVA served grades K-8; in 2012-13 the school expanded to serve grades K-10.

On January 2, 2013, Governor Patrick signed into law Chapter 379 of the Acts of 2012, "An Act Establishing Commonwealth Virtual Schools" (Act). The new law authorizes the Board to adopt regulations and, through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department), to oversee the establishment and operation of publicly funded, high quality Commonwealth virtual schools (CMVS). The new statute was responsive to the position the Board adopted in 2011: that there should be a stronger oversight and consumer protection role for the state than the one provided by the innovation school statute. Under the new law, approval by the Board is required to establish a virtual school serving students from more than one district. Section 6 of the Act explicitly required the Board to grant a certificate to operate a CMVS to Greenfield upon submission of a timely application that addresses the information specified in the virtual schools statute at G.L. c. 71, § 94(b).

During the 2012-13 school year, Greenfield submitted a timely application that addressed requirements as outlined in the Act. In June 2013, as required by the Act, the Board granted a certificate to operate a CMVS, essentially converting MAVA, a locally-approved virtual innovation school, to the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School (GCVS). GCVS opened as a CMVS in the 2013-14 school year serving students in grades K-12.

Failure to Meet Current Conditions of Certificate

When a certificate was granted to GCVS, the Board imposed five conditions on the certificate. As of October 2, 2014, two of the five conditions still had not been met. These conditions follow.

  1. No later than August 1, 2013, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School will submit a draft contract with K12, Inc., to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for review, amendment if necessary by the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School, and approval.

    We have reviewed several versions of the school's proposed contract with K12, Inc., to date and await a final version from the school for final approval.

  2. No later than September 1, 2014, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School shall complete the alignment of its curriculum to the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.

    As of June 5, 2014, the date of the school's accountability review, which is further described below, alignment between the school's documented curriculum and the state curriculum frameworks varied across grades and subjects.

Additional Issues Regarding Academic Program and Governance

The Department led an accountability visit for GCVS on June 5, 2014. The resulting site visit report documents concerns about GCVS's faithfulness to the certificate, the quality of the academic program, the quality and amount of supports for diverse learners, and the school's lack of compliance with regulatory requirements and Department guidance. The site visit report is attached. Below are highlighted concerns based in specific areas outlined within the Virtual School Performance Criteria, which are attached for reference.

Criterion 2 - Access and Equity

The accountability review found that GCVS does not promote program access and equity for English language learners (ELLs) or for special education students because it lacks systems. For instance, the school lacks a system to appropriately identify the English language proficiency of students. The school's website does not provide descriptions of the programs or services offered to ELL or special education students; it was unclear to the school and to the virtual school provider, K12, Inc., which entity is responsible for the provision of instructional materials and supplies for special education students; and parents reported being unclear regarding the availability of and means to access services. Furthermore, policies regarding technology requirements in the home may discourage families and students from low-income families from seeking to enroll in GCVS. For example, the school conditions the provision of computers to students "based on financial need and eligibility" and the provision of Internet access to families "based on financial need." (Under Chapter 71, Section 48 of the Massachusetts General Laws, school districts must purchase at public expense instructional materials and supplies intended for use and re-use over a period of years, which includes costly tools such as computers.) The school must be prepared to provide these products and services free of charge to students whose families do not choose to buy them or cannot afford to do so.

Criterion 4 - Student Performance

Academic results have not been promising. In 2014, including the test results of MAVA, the school is a Level 3 school and the school's academic performance is in the seventh percentile when compared to all middle/high and K-12 schools statewide. The school's 2014 cumulative progress and performance index (PPI) for all students was 63, indicating that the school is not making sufficient progress toward closing proficiency gaps. In particular, the school's median student growth percentiles (SGP) in English language arts and mathematics have been well below what is typical.

 GCVS Median Student Growth Percentile
Year2011201220132014
English Language Arts26.529.035.032.5
Mathematics18.025.029.033.0

See the tables provided in Appendix A for additional information.

Criterion 5 - Program Delivery

The accountability review found minimal evidence of instruction that checked for student understanding or that required critical thinking (analyzing, creating, evaluating) of students; moreover, the level of student engagement and the effective use of time was highly variable.

Criterion 7 - Capacity

The accountability review found the school lacks clear expectations for effective instructional practice. Teachers are provided with technical training related to the learning management system (LMS), which is the software platform for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, and delivery of the learning program. There was no clear evidence of regular, frequent collaboration and professional development that would improve implementation of the curriculum and instructional practice. Moreover, the school does not have an educator evaluation system in all grades as required by 603 CMR 35.00.

Criterion 8 - Governance

As noted above, as of October 2, 2014, GCVS has not met two conditions that the Board imposed when it granted the virtual school certificate. In particular, GCVS has yet to provide the Department with a contract between GCVS and K12, Inc., the school's education management organization, that is ready for the Commissioner's approval.

Conditions and Probation

Pursuant to the regulations for Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools at 603 CMR 52.12(2), I recommend that the Board place GCVS on probation for the remainder of the school's certificate term. The school's current certificate expires on June 30, 2016.

I also recommend that the Board place the following conditions on the school's certificate:

  1. By October 31, 2014, GCVS will submit to the Department a final draft of a contract with K12, Inc., that addresses all issues already communicated to GCVS by the Department, for approval by the Commissioner.

  2. By December 31, 2014, GCVS will provide evidence to the Department that it has completed the alignment of its curriculum to the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.

  3. By December 31, 2014, GCVS will submit to the Department a comprehensive evaluation of the school's mathematics and English language arts programs and of the school's instructional practices, such evaluation to be conducted by one or more external consultants acceptable to the Department.

  4. By January 31, 2015, GCVS will submit an action plan to the Department for approval that specifies strategies to improve mathematics and English language arts performance. The plan must address how the school will utilize and will support instructional staff to implement the plan. The plan must include a timetable for the implementation of actions, must set deadlines for the completion of key tasks, and must set clear and specific implementation benchmarks to allow the GCVS board of trustees and the Department to monitor implementation.

  5. By December 31, 2015, GCVS must demonstrate that it is an academic success through evidence of significant academic improvement in mathematics and English language arts.

  6. Beginning immediately and until further notice, GCVS must submit to the Department, at jgwatkin@doe.mass.edu or 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA, 02148, board meeting agendas and materials, prior to each board meeting at the same time that these items are sent to GCVS board members. Further, GCVS must submit to the Department the minutes of these proceedings as soon as the GCVS board approves them. The Department reserves the right to require the submission of additional information, such as quarterly or monthly financial statements, if board materials do not already include this information, and the school must provide such additional information within two business days.

Based upon the success-or lack thereof-of GCVS in meeting the conditions imposed in connection with its probationary status, I will recommend further action as appropriate. Please note, meeting these conditions is not a guarantee that probation will not continue or that the school's charter will be renewed. The Department will continue to monitor developments at the school, and I will report to the Board the school's progress in meeting the conditions imposed on its certificate.

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If you have any questions regarding this recommendation or require additional information, please contact Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner (781-338-6500); or me.

Attachment:

 
Motion
 
GCVS Accountability Review Report
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School Performance Criteria
 
Appendix A - Academic Performance and Demographic Data

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Last Updated: October 17, 2014
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