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Personalized instruction provides HOPE to Colorado students

HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op uses an online curriculum supported by face-to-face instruction.

HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op in Colorado’s Douglas County has used a blend of online and face-to-face learning to deliver highly individualized instruction to students, many of whom entered the school at risk of failing. The school’s data-driven approach allows teachers to target instruction to meet each student’s unique needs. This research-based method has helped lower disciplinary problems while increasing student performance on state assessments.

For these reasons, we’ve chosen HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op as our “eSchool of the Month” for May. Here, Heather O’Mara, HOPE’s chief executive director, reveals some of the school’s successes and key practices.

(Editor’s note: To nominate your school or district for our “eSchool of the Month” feature, and to read about past winners, go to:

How does your school use technology to advance student learning?

HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op (HOPE) is a public, free, nonprofit K-12 charter school that uses an online curriculum, supported by face-to-face instruction, to increase mastery and learning outcomes for our students. HOPE’s use of technology supports, but does not supplant, high-quality instruction by teachers. At HOPE, technology is a tool to enable individualized learning plans and teaching. By incorporating technology-based curriculum and assessments, teacher instruction is targeted to improve each student’s performance.

HOPE’s use of technology allows teachers to identify the proficiency of each student by grade and subject. From that initial assessment, an individual learning plan is designed to put the student on track for success. The online curriculum benchmarks the progress students make with their plans so that a teacher may easily monitor students’ progress and adjust their learning plans to suit student abilities.

In grades K-12, we use CompassLearning’s Odyssey curriculum, as well as A+ curriculum from American Education Corp. We have seen great success with this research-based curriculum that incorporates a high level of interactivity, audio and video, colorful animation, and engaging graphics. Our rigorous curriculum meets both state and federal standards. Additionally, we incorporate several supplemental programs, including My Reading Coach, Reading Plus, Lexia, Rosetta Stone, and Math HELP to increase student comprehension. Formative and summative assessments such as DIBELS, Acuity, and Accuplacer are used to target instruction to each student’s specific needs.

In the summer of 2011, HOPE’s student services team began to use GoogleDocs to review student discipline and attendance issues prior to enrollment. This practice led to faster response times and increased efficiency across the student services and admissions departments during a busy enrollment season.

Have you noticed an increase in student performance and/or motivation as a result of this technology use?

Given lessons at the appropriate skill level, students are able to understand and complete their lessons, thereby gaining confidence and motivation to continue learning. The self-paced, mastery-focused curriculum at HOPE has a noticeable impact on our students, especially those students who enroll for at least two consecutive years. Our data show that students who are enrolled for one year or more in HOPE increase their Colorado Student Assessment Program scores in reading (+6.5 percent), writing (+3.2 percent), and math (+6.5 percent).

Additionally, by using engaging technology, we have increased the percentage of students who re-enroll from 51 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 70 percent in the 2011-12 school year. This is especially notable because our student body tends to be a highly mobile, at-risk, low-income, minority population. For example, 49 percent of second through fifth graders have been in three or more schools in the past three years, at least 63 percent qualify for free lunch, and only 27 percent are grade-level proficient upon enrollment. With re-enrollment numbers trending upward, we hope to see continued gains among our students’ state assessment scores.

Over the past three years, HOPE also has seen a decrease in the number of behavior incidents. At the elementary level, incidents have decreased from 46 in 2009-10, to 24 in 2010-11, to 14 in 2011-12. This positive trend is also reflected at the high school level. Incidents have decreased from 135 to 109 from 2009-10 to 2011-12. This trend is attributable to our use of Moodle software, which trains HOPE teachers and staff about student behavior and strategic techniques for encouraging improved student behavior.

How do you use technology to streamline school administration and aid in decision-making?

With formative and summative assessment databases, as well as SPSS data mining software, our instructional team, teachers, and Learning Center staff are able to monitor student progress and achievement on a weekly, and even daily, basis. Collectively, these systems let staff evaluate student progress at the school, classroom, student subgroup, and individual student levels.

Data analysis is applied daily to address individual students’ learning needs. Historically, this monitoring has let us adjust students’ daily schedules. During our earliest years, students spent the majority of their time learning with the online curriculum. Now, using data provide d by all of our curriculums, learning programs, and assessments, we have discovered that a tiered approach to online and offline lessons works best. Younger students benefit most when the online curriculum is coupled with additional time spent with face-to-face group and one-on-one instruction. As students advance into higher grades, their need for the face-to-face group instruction decreases, and they’re able to be successful engaging with the online curriculum for longer periods of time, supplementing it with one-on-one, face-to-face support.

HOPE Learning Centers are operated by our approximately 50 partners, all of which are community-based nonprofit organizations committed to education and our students. Learning Centers provide a facility that students attend daily to access their online curriculum and receive face-to-face support from licensed teachers and experienced mentors. Learning Centers are located in students’ neighborhoods and give students a safe and nurturing environment for learning.

How have you financed your technology initiatives?

As a public school, HOPE receives more than 95 percent of its funding from the state of Colorado. Other funds are obtained by applying for grants. In 2010-11, HOPE received $38,000 in eRate funding. Our eRate funds supported our telecommunications expenses, including smart phones to keep our teachers and technology experts connected and alert to the needs of students.

What initiative are you most proud of, and why?

We are most proud of launching the very first hybrid K-12 school. HOPE’s at-risk student population has benefitted from a blended learning model that combines the support of face-to-face instruction and a self-paced, technology-based curriculum. The proudest moments are seeing students who did not believe they could do well in school learn to believe in themselves and attain educational success, in large part owing to their ability to move at their own pace. We have graduated more than 600 students, many of whom were at risk of dropping out or never imagined being able to earn their high school diploma.

What have been your biggest ed-tech challenges, and how have you overcome these?

One of our largest challenges was overcoming our students’ lack of computer and internet access at home, which made the integration of technology into our classrooms (Learning Centers) all the more important. As we integrated technology into our classrooms, we made sure that the technology we chose fit our multi-grade classroom model. HOPE is dedicated to keeping classes small to make sure each student receives individualized help. HOPE students in the same classroom might be working at different levels in different subjects or might be at various points in the same lesson, but without the right technology, keeping track of the progress of each student in a class could be overwhelming. A professional development program was created at HOPE to address how best to manage the capabilities of classroom technology, as well as share best practices among instructors.

What’s your best advice for colleagues?

The use of technology in education supports, but does not supplant, high-quality instruction by teachers. Improving student performance is the goal of teacher instruction that incorporates technology-based curriculum, robust assessments, and data management and analysis systems. The ability to read and analyze data will help any educator or administrator understand the effectiveness of any technology and its impact on student performance.

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