Wyoming Connections Academy
A distance education program offered by Big Horn County School District #1
Method(s) of course procurement
Connections Academy is a leading national provider of curriculum to high-quality, highly accountable distance education programs in 18 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) serving more than 30,000 students in grades K-12 across the nation. Connections Academy will open four more schools in Fall of 2011 in Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Utah. Connections Academy-affiliated schools deliver top-shelf personalized education for students that combines certified teachers, a proven curriculum, technology tools, and community experiences. In Connections Academy’s unique Personalized Performance Learning® approach, students use daily lesson plans and curriculum materials provided by Connections Academy. Teachers develop a learning plan for each student, whose progress is tracked through a proprietary, web-based Learning Management System. The Connections Academy program is the first of its kind to be accredited by the Commission on International and Trans-Regional Accreditation, and Connections Academy-affiliated schools are also accredited by their regional accrediting bodies such as North Central Association.
Big Horn County School District #1 selected the Connections Academy program in large part because of the strong academic performance demonstrated in Connections Academy-affiliated schools. For example, in 2009-10:
- Ohio Connections Academy in 2010 was declared an Excellent school through the Ohio Department of Education accountability system – the only e-school in the state to be so recognized,
- Wisconsin Connections Academy school has made the federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for a remarkable 5 consecutive years (2005-present),
- The Connections Academy program in Florida has earned an “A” on the state Department of Education report card for 4 consecutive years (2006-present),
- Oregon Connections Academy was ranked Outstanding (the highest possible rating) in 2009 by the state department of education based on test score performance,
- Arizona Connections Academy school met AYP in 2010 as in prior years and was rated as a Highly Performing school under AZ Learns in 2008-2009, the state’s school rating system, and
- Two Colorado Connections Academy teachers were honored as the Online Elementary Teachers of the Year by the Colorado Department of Education in 2008-2009 and 2010-2011.
Unique among distance education programs, Wyoming Connections Academy will offer these features:
- Highly effective teacher model: The Connections Academy program is notably “teacher-centric,” with teachers actively shaping all aspects of the student’s experience, from verifying attendance to modifying specific lessons to grading online and offline work. Teachers are specifically prepared for these duties through intensive pre-service professional development as well as ongoing training both face-to-face and virtual.
- Multi-tiered Intervention approach: The Connections Academy program offers a multi-tiered intervention model so that every student has access to the resources he/she needs to be successful. This approach consists of: Tier 1 – Core Instructional Program; Tier 2 – Supplemental Programs and Supports; and Tier 3 – Alternative Programs. The Student Support Team may recommend placement of a student into Tier 2 for a specified period or longer-term placement into Tier 3.
- Track record with underserved populations: Connections Academy-affiliated schools have been particularly effective in improving academic performance among students who are disadvantaged or struggling, including those in the bottom quartiles. For example, Connections Academy schools in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania has shown significant test score performance increases with student populations which are more than 50% low-income, nearly one-quarter minority, and as much as 18% in special education.
For more information about the Connections Academy curriculum and its results, see http://www.connectionsacademy.com/proven-results/free-online-school-results.aspx
Course evaluation and improvement
At Connections Academy, the design and continuous improvement of curriculum is guided by these key principles, which correspond to those promulgated by iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning:
- Curriculum fosters breadth and depth of understanding in each subject area
- Content is aligned to national and state standards
- Curriculum is supported by quality, reputable, recently published textbooks and/or proven
instructional resources and materials
- Content and assessments are accurate and unbiased
- Content is current, relevant and provides real-world applications
- Content is appropriate for the learner (age, ability, background, reading level, learning style)
- Instructional design is adaptable and flexible to meet individual needs of Learning Coaches and students
- Instructional design provides students with opportunities to improve learning skills using technological tools (e.g., virtual labs and instruments, Teachlet tutorials, business software, online calculator, WebQuests)
- Navigation is intuitive and age-appropriate
- Scope of course is appropriate with regard to amount of content, length of course and lessons, and course requirements
- Lesson introduction is effective and presents lesson objectives, accesses prior knowledge, sets expectations and motivates
- Background information effectively prepares students to access new content, skills and strategies
- Curriculum includes opportunities for developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills
- Curriculum includes opportunities for collaboration and independent study
- Curriculum includes opportunities to develop oral and written communication skills
- Curriculum incorporates timely and appropriate feedback to students
The Connections Academy curriculum in its design and continuous improvement is also focused on key skills that students need for success in the 21st century, as detailed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (www.21stcenturyskills.org). These skills include critical thinking and problem solving, global awareness, self-directed learning, collaboration skills, and technology literacy.
To measure and continuously refine its fulfillment of these principles, Connections Academy has engineered a constant stream of user feedback through its unique StarTrak rating system. Accessible through every one of the curriculum’s more than 21,000 lessons, this persistent integrated rating system allows every student, parent, and teacher – in fact, every user – to rate each lesson from a low of one star to a high of five stars. Ratings are used by curriculum staff to identify areas of needed improvement as well as curriculum approaches that work especially well. Parents are also invited to rate that school experience as a whole. Almost a half million ratings have been collected, with an average rating per lesson of 4.1 stars on a 5 point scale.
All Connections Academy courses undergo daily maintenance based on feedback from teachers, students, and parents, and annual revision based on customer feedback, StarTrak data, state standards/assessments, and internal assessment analysis. Courses undergo major revisions every three years, and a complete re-write, including integration of a new textbook, every six years.
Continuous improvement occurs at the macro level as well. All Connections Academy stakeholders nationally participate in an independent satisfaction survey administered via the Internet each spring, with response rates of greater than 65%. In the most recent survey, more than 96% of parents agreed that the Connections Academy curriculum is high quality and 93% of parents graded the overall program A or B.