By Dr. Jeffrey Kissinger, Chief Academic Officer
Everyone knows when the worldwide pandemic closed schools, students and teachers were thrust into a virtual school environment. But what is less commonly known is online education existed for a long time before the pandemic, and there are a variety of rigorous standards used to evaluate quality in online learning.
Quality Matters is a global leader in providing quality assurance for digital teaching and online learning environments. Its system is scalable and can be applied to both online and blended education. The QM Certification Mark on courses and programs is the internationally recognized symbol of online and blended course design quality and indicates that courses and programs have met the QM Course Design Standards or QM Program Review Criteria after undergoing a rigorous review process. The QM standards are directly mapped to the National Standards for Quality Online Learning published by the Aurora Institute, thereby integrating standards from the two most reputable organizations in K-12 online learning.
Each year, the QM community celebrates individuals and institutions that exemplify QM’s focus on student success. Awardees demonstrate an unwavering commitment to ensuring high course quality and use varied but valuable approaches to improving learner outcomes, including the implementation of QM Standards, practices, and processes.
Graduation Alliance is excited to be recognized by Quality Matters (QM) in the 2021 “Outstanding Impact by a K-12 Organization” category of the Making A Difference For Students Awards.
Graduation Alliance provides students with alternative pathways to graduation, and we currently serve more than 8,600 students. The 360 degrees of structured support each student receives is key to their success, but we also know quality courses lead to better outcomes, which is why we chose to implement Quality Matters.
Being a recipient of both Quality Matters Certification and this award affirms Graduation Alliance’s commitment to serving learners who have not seen success through traditional learning and instruction. Graduation Alliance’s efforts to remove barriers and increase engagement through high-quality curriculum and support continues to increase graduation rates.
Graduation Alliance’s students are the ultimate beneficiaries of these advancements in curriculum design, which are focused squarely on providing access to meaningful, quality online learning experiences to foster their success in completing their education and beyond.
Our Approach to Quality Online Learning
Until late 2017, Graduation Alliance had been both building and leasing curricula. Although our leased courses consisted of curricula that were aligned to state standards, we knew it could be better in aligning to the needs of our learner population. The publisher courses were over-designed and not supportive of the needs of online, at-risk student populations. Our curriculum team led an initiative to redesign the courses internally with help from our certified teachers who have first-hand experience with our student populations. These redesigned courses were aligned to:
- Learners’ needs
- State standards
- The Quality Matters evidence-based best practices and standards for online and blended learning
Graduation Alliance practices a continual enhancement process. In addition to undergoing the official QM review process, the curriculum department routinely meets with Teacher Mentors and utilizes teacher feedback for ongoing course improvements. The QM process and ethos are now the shared framework and language that affords the curriculum team, along with all student services cross-functional departments, to best serve students’ needs, as evidenced by a significant uptick in credits being earned and the number of successful high school graduates. Additionally, in many cases, learners who have previously dropped out of brick-and-mortar schools have not only graduated from high school but also have earned college credits to transition to postsecondary education.
Evidence of Impact on Students
Graduation Alliance serves nearly 8,600 students. The credit earn rate substantially increased following the curriculum changes.
Credit earn rate directly correlates to graduation rates; students who make progress are that much closer to graduation and more likely to finish their diploma. Graduation rates among students enrolled in Graduation Alliance programs have steadily increased since 2018, with the percentage of graduating seniors increasing by more than 10 percent over the past four years.
The Bottom Line
The 5th edition of the Quality Matters Online and Blended Rubric is the foundation of strategies that serve the needs of all learners. Through the QM training, our teachers and colleagues are equipped to better design for and serve our students.
The pandemic’s overnight pivot to “remote learning” taught us that intentional, thoughtful, evidence-based quality instructional design matters. No one tool or technology is going to be the quick fix to effectively serve learners, especially online at-risk learners with specific needs. Having a quality strategy and framework around teaching and learning and designing specifically for online and blended learning is essential for student success. Additionally, Graduation Alliance pairs a multi-tiered system of supports with our online courses to ensure students have the tools AND support they need to graduate from high school. Learn more about our support system here.