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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools - Renewal Recommendation for TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
February 17, 2017

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Pursuant to the virtual school statute, G.L. c. 71, § 94(j), and the regulations for Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools (CMVS) at 603 CMR 52.11, I recommend that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) renew the certificate for the TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School (TECCA) for an additional five years. I further recommend that the Board place conditions1 on the school's certificate to address concerns related to student participation in MCAS tests and supports for English language learners (ELLs).

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) evaluated the performance of TECCA against the Commonwealth Virtual School Performance Criteria2 using quantitative and qualitative evidence reported by the school and collected by the Department throughout the school's initial certificate of three years, 2014-15 through 2016-17. The evidence included, but was not limited to, state academic assessment data, the school's self-determined Accountability Plan goals, annual reports, audited financial information, and data collected from accountability reviews conducted in December 2014, May 2015, and February 2016. Furthermore, TECCA underwent a comprehensive renewal process that included the submission of an application in June 2016 and an inspection visit in November 2016 (see Attachment A).

TEC Connections Academy
Commonwealth Virtual School
Year opened:July 1, 2014 Year(s) renewed:N/A
Educational management organization:Connections Education Location of administrative offices:141 Mansion Drive
Suite 300
East Walpole, MA 02032
Maximum enrollment:2,0003 Current enrollment:1,264 students as of December 9, 2016
Grade span:K-12 Number of sending districts served:228 as of June 20, 2016
Number of instructional days per year:181 Students waitlisted:0 as of December 13, 2016
Mission Statement: The mission of TEC Connections Academy is to offer Massachusetts students a quality online alternative to the traditional classroom by providing a supportive, individualized program of study; effective instruction; engaging learning experiences; and diverse curriculum offerings to stimulate curiosity, advance personal growth, and promote academic achievement.

The Department received an application from The Education Cooperative (TEC) in the spring of 2013 to establish a new Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School (CMVS) beginning in the 2014-15 school year.4 On February 25, 2014, the Board approved a 3-year operating certificate to TECCA under the virtual school statute, G.L. c. 71, § 94, and regulations, 603 CMR 52.00. TECCA is the second of two Commonwealth Virtual Schools awarded a certificate.

Renewal of Certificate

A summary of the performance record of TECCA is provided in the attached Summary of Review (Attachment B). The school's ratings from the Summary of Review are provided below.

Faithfulness to certificate
1. Mission and key design elements: Is faithful to its mission, implements the key design elements outlined in its certificate, and substantially meets its accountability plan goals.Meets
2. Access and equity: Ensures program access and equity for all students eligible to attend the school.Partially Meets
3.Compliance: Compiles a record of compliance with the terms of its certificate and applicable state and federal laws and regulations.Partially Meets
Academic and program success
4.Student performance: Consistently meets state student performance standards for academic growth, proficiency, and college and career readiness.Partially Meets5
5.Program delivery: Delivers improved academic outcomes and educational success for all students.
 a.CurriculumPartially Meets
 b.InstructionMeets
 c.Assessment and program evaluationMeets
 d.Diverse learnersPartially Meets
6.Culture and family engagement: Supports students' social and emotional health in a safe and respectful learning environment that engages families.Meets
Organizational viability
7.Capacity: Sustains a well-functioning organizational structure and creates a professional working climate for all staffMeets
8.Governance: Board of Trustees acts as public agents authorized by the state and provides competent governance to ensure success and sustainability.Partially Meets
9.Finance: Maintains a sound and stable financial condition that operates in a fiscally responsible and publicly accountable manner.Meets
 
Rating Scale:
ExceedsFully and consistently meets the criterion; potential exemplar
MeetsGenerally meets the criterion; minor concerns are noted
Partially MeetsMeets some aspects of the criterion but not others and/or moderate concerns are noted
Falls far belowFalls far below the criterion; significant concern(s) are noted

Recommendation

Pursuant to the statute and regulations for Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools, I recommend that the Board renew the certificate for TECCA for an additional five years, with two conditions.

  • TECCA met the Department's academic progress and performance expectations6 for the "all students" group and exceeded expectations for high needs students.7 Of the 18 indicators for which the school received an accountability rating, TECCA earned ratings of On Target or Above Target for 11 indicators, No Change for 4 indicators, and Below Target for 3 indicators. Although the school has insufficient data for ESE to calculate an accountability rating based on statewide assessment data, TECCA was classified into Level 3 of the state's accountability and assistance system for very low MCAS participation (less than 90%) in the aggregate and for multiple subgroups [detailed participation rate data from 2015 and 2016 may be found on page 5 of the renewal inspection report (Attachment A)].8

  • TECCA is attracting students with unique needs and circumstances; consequently, the school's enrollment patterns differ from brick-and-mortar schools. To highlight these differences, attached to this memorandum is an analysis of student demographics and enrollment trends from the 2015-16 school year (Attachment D). Recently TECCA has experienced significant growth in the enrollment of ELLs, from 6 students in 2015-16 to 34 students in 2016-17. To ensure that these students are well served in the virtual environment, I recommend that the Board impose a condition requiring TECCA to develop and implement a plan for providing specialized support for ELLs.

To remedy the issues noted above regarding MCAS participation and support for ELLs, I recommend that the Board impose the following two conditions on the school's certificate:

  1. By March 13, 2017, TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School must submit to the Department for its approval, at odl@doe.mass.edu or 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA, 02148, a detailed plan for ensuring that not less than 95% of students participate in Spring 2017 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests, in the aggregate and for all applicable student subgroups. The plan, which must be implemented upon approval, must provide descriptions and timelines for:

    1. Arranging for student transportation to testing sites for all applicable tests during the testing window, including make-up tests, if needed;
    2. Including information about transportation options, which must include no-cost options, in the general notice sent to parents/guardians about the MCAS participation requirements;
    3. Identifying testing sites, including school districts, if applicable;
    4. Monitoring student attendance on testing days; and
    5. Conducting additional outreach to the parents/guardians of students at risk of not participating in testing, including students who may not have participated in prior test administrations while enrolled at TECCA.

  2. By April 3, 2017, TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School must submit to the Department for its approval, at odl@doe.mass.edu or 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA, 02148, in a format prescribed by the Office of Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement, a detailed plan for serving students who are English language learners. The plan, which must be implemented upon approval, must provide descriptions and timelines for:

    1. Identifying and screening all students potentially eligible for English language learner services;
    2. Providing high-quality, specialized instructional support to English language learners, including standards-aligned curriculum, formative assessments, and pedagogical strategies;
    3. Providing all teachers of English language learners with ongoing professional development to effectively meet the needs of English language learners and their parents/guardians;
    4. Providing on-demand translation services to current and prospective students' parents/guardians who do not speak English; and
    5. Conducting outreach to prospective students' parents/guardians who do not speak English, in multiple languages, using the same channels the school uses for English-speaking parents, which may include web/social media, radio, print, and television.

In recommending that the Board renew the certificate for TECCA for an additional five years, rather than the minimum of three years, I am giving the school the opportunity to build on its early gains and demonstrate a solid track record of performance. My recommendation is tempered by the caution that, unlike other public school options in the Commonwealth, the CMVS initiative remains an experiment. Nationally, the performance of virtual schools is decidedly mixed. In order to demonstrate that virtual learning can be a viable alternative for the small number of families who exercise this option, I have encouraged the two current Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools to propose refinements to the model. At a future Board meeting, I expect to present some issues for further discussion, including the possibility of adjusting the per pupil tuition for the virtual schools operating in Massachusetts.

In conclusion, I recommend that the Board renew the certificate for the TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School for an additional five years with the above-noted conditions placed on the school's certificate.

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If you have any questions regarding this recommendation or require additional information, please contact Kenneth Klau, Director, Office of Digital Learning (781-338-3505); Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); or me.

Attachments:

 
Motion
View HTML Page
Attachment A: November 2016 Renewal Inspection Report
 
Attachment B: Summary of Review
Download Word Document
Attachment C: Terms of Certificate
Download PowerPoint File
Attachment D: Student Demographics and Enrollment Trends, 2015-16

Note:

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Last Updated: February 24, 2017
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