Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Examining "Rigor" in Online Content

How are you making decisions when it comes to students needing to recover credit? Are those decisions proactive based on student needs and individualized instruction? Are they based on the need to challenge and engage learners? Or are these decisions reactionary, based on fast and easy options? Read the following guest blog from Michelle Lourcey, Curriculum and Instruction Division Director and Director for Credit Recovery for North Carolina Virtual Public School as she defines "rigor" and encourages leaders to examine the "rigor" in online content to decide truly what is best for kids.

The word “rigor” is thrown around so much these days in educational circles. There are varied definitions for it and just as many opinions as to what it should look like in a classroom. Anyone can claim their teaching or their content is rigorous as there are not many hard and fast indicators to justify or deny that such rigor exists.

The same is true for online content providers, including those for Credit Recovery. One can claim rigor but what does that rigor really look like within the content?

Barbara Blackburn in her book, Rigor is NOT a Four Letter Word (2008), discusses the rigor issue in education, and she references the powerful study that came out in 2006 called “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High Schools Dropouts.” What is interesting about this study, and what Blackburn points out, is that of the 500 dropouts that were the focus on the study, 88% weren’t failing school, and 70% believe they could have graduated.

Here are some of the salient points that Blackburn found from the study that were “rigor-related:”

  • 47% of dropouts said classes weren’t interesting
  • 66% would have worked harder if more had been demanded of them
  • 81% called for more “real-world” learning opportunities
  • 75% wanted smaller classes with more individual instruction

Blackburn’s definition of rigor is that “Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.”

This definition must apply to all online options, including credit recovery options as well. If a student has not shown a mastery knowledge of the goals and objectives of the NCSCOS, then already a foundational gap exists in the student’s learning that will certainly show itself again. NCVPS has definite beliefs as to what rigor looks like when it comes to not only Credit Recovery but all online learning.

  • For credit recovery, the course recovery process should do more than meet an immediate need. While it may be more convenient to give students a few hours in front of a computer screen and this is the end of the recovery process, NCVPS believes that credit recovery programs should ensure that all the goals of the NCSCOS are being achieved.
  • For all NCVPS courses, NC certified teachers individualize and differentiate instruction for each student.
  • The teacher / student ratio is one teacher for every twenty students for credit recovery and one teacher for every thirty students for other NCVPS courses.
  • Our content must be engaging and challenging with “real-world” connections and 21st century themes.
  • Students interact with the content by reading, viewing, and hearing it in order to address all learning styles.
  • Students must show their online teachers that they can make the learning their own through assessments that require creation and synthesis, more than just pointing and clicking at answers.
  • Students should be prepared to go onto the next level of instruction.
  • There should not be gaps in the student’s learning just because the student went through a credit recovery program.
And finally, it’s about integrity with that rigor….we want the classroom teachers of North Carolina to be confident that when one of their students goes through an NCVPS credit recovery course or any NCVPS course, they know that the student demonstrated learning of the content and is ready to move forward with the next instructional goals.

Why perpetuate gaps for students? Why choose credit recovery options that meet an immediate need but not a student’s long term learning needs? Shouldn’t we demand more from our students when a class is failed? Of course we should.

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