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Our Latest Rock Star: Abilene Independent School District

Thursday, May 21, 2015 -- Sarah Cornelius

Just six years ago, after the 2009–10 school year, Abilene Independent School District was rated “academically unacceptable” by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). This was largely due to a low graduation rate, particularly among its sizable population of economically disadvantaged students. The district chose to build an extended school program to offer students more opportunities to recover credit and ultimately increase its graduation rate.

From the outset, Abilene ISD knew that an online learning partner would be a key element of its extended school program and chose Plato Courseware for the program’s broad course offerings and flexible structure. The district was able to achieve an “acceptable” rating by the TEA after just one year using Plato Courseware, and the trend has continued since. Today, Abilene is proud to boast a 93.6% graduation rate. The district has also expanded its use of Plato Courseware to include initial semester credit and assessment preparation, as well as opportunities for acceleration for middle school students.

Heath Wright, Abilene ISD’s Director of Extended School Program, shares some insights on the district’s success below.

What are some of the different ways you utilize Plato Courseware throughout your district?

Mr. Wright: We use the product on our high school campuses in our Extended School Programs that run each evening from 4–6 to allow students to recover six weeks and semester grades as well as earn initial credit for semesters. We also use it during extended breaks for recovery and initial credit. This would include our Winter Mini-Mester held of Winter Break in which we have averaged over 120 participants each year since inception in 2010–11 as well as our morning and afternoon sessions throughout the summer.

Last year, we also began implementation at the middle school level. We created a Partners Program which provides the ability for at-risk 8th graders to spend half their day completing multiple high school level courses to allow them to get ahead when entering high school. Students are able to earn up to 6 credits. Other middle school students on certain campuses are able to complete select high school level courses through the program.

You have been a Plato Courseware customer since 2009. During that time, how have your goals for the program evolved?

Mr. Wright: We originally started the program to help students at-risk, but it has become so much more and web based and online learning is now embedded into the culture of our district.  We have helped kids that are behind to those that want to free up their schedule to take courses that better match their career goals.

Based on your experience, what advice would you offer to schools or districts just starting to implement an online tool like Plato Courseware?

Mr. Wright: Administration needs to take an active role in the process including learning the product and how it is being used.

It is important to select strong teachers to teach the students using this program. The web-based instruction is the medium, but teachers will still be the reason the students are successful.

To learn more about how Abilene ISD has partnered with Edmentum and Plato Courseware to improve graduation rates and support student success, check out their complete success story here.