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[AdvancED Accreditation] Unpacking EdOptions Academy’s Strengths, Opportunities, and Plans to Improve

[AdvancED Accreditation] Unpacking EdOptions Academy’s Strengths, Opportunities, and Plans to Improve

For us at EdOptions Academy (and across Edmentum as a whole), supporting successful student outcomes is always our number-one goal. Within the EdOptions Academy team, maintaining accreditation through AdvancED (now called Cognia) is one of the foundational ways we work to achieve that directive. 

Accreditation matters because it opens us up to review from an impartial third party and signals to our district, school, educator, student, and family partners that virtual learning with EdOptions Academy is impactful. Every five years, we go through a reaccreditation process with an expert AdvancED Engagement Review Team. This team of highly trained, third-party educators gathers firsthand, holistic evidence about EdOptions Academy as an institution—our stakeholders, our curriculum, our instructional approaches, our internal processes, and more—and evaluates the findings against the nationally recognized AdvancED Performance Standards.

Ultimately, this team pools its findings to provide determinations about the quality and efficacy of the EdOptions Academy learning environment and to offer meaningful insights about our performance. Not only does this process provide externally validated, transparent information to our partners, but it also helps us drive continuous improvement by identifying areas for development, progression, and expansion.

We recently completed the reaccreditation process in April 2019, and now we’re excited to share some very positive results. AdvancED (Cognia) awarded us an overall Index of Education Quality (IEQ) over 50 points higher than the national average—a clear indication that virtual learning through EdOptions Academy is focused on quality student experiences and school partnerships to support those successful student outcomes that are our primary goal.

However, beyond the findings of high overall success, the reaccreditation process was a great chance for us on the EdOptions Academy team to take a step back, consider some of the strengths and areas of opportunity for our institution, and think critically about what we will do to promote continued and improved student success in the coming academic year. Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect, the EdOptions Academy team has been able to consider our current reality and put together a roadmap for continuous improvement and professional growth.

EdOptions Academy: Areas of Outstanding Achievement

Celebrating successes is absolutely critical to building confident, growth-minded students—and we feel the same is true for academic organizations. Here are three strengths identified by the AdvancED Engagement Review Team that we are particularly proud of within the EdOptions Academy team, along with our plans to continue expanding on these capabilities:

EdOptions Academy provides an equitable learning environment that prepares students with real-world skills and helps them develop confidence and self-efficacy.

EdOptions Academy students come from a broad range of backgrounds—and our teachers will tell you that’s one of the best things about our institution. We want education to be accessible to everyone, and we sincerely believe that virtual learning opens up opportunities that otherwise may not have been available for some students.

What We’re Doing to Improve: EdOptions Academy will roll out new, interactive, project-based, built-to-standards digital curriculum.

Our teachers are the heart of EdOptions Academy virtual courses, but high-quality digital curriculum is the backbone. We’re continuously making updates to ensure that our courses are aligned to state and national standards. This fall, we’ll be taking student engagement to a whole new level by incorporating augmented reality (AR) powered by Boulevard Arts in our English 9 course and introducing project-based learning (PBL) activities in our STEM courses.

Feedback from the AdvancED Engagement Review Team:
“During a student interview, it was stated, ‘They tell you; they show you; they keep you accountable.’ . . . In the Improvement Journey presentation, it was learned the organization serves over 50,000 learners who come with diverse circumstances. Some are full-time students in [EdOptions Academy]; for others, it may be credit recovery, homeschooled, medically fragile, athletes, or sex-trafficking victims. Each brings special needs that the organization attempts to address with high-quality curriculum and instruction.”

Associated AdvancedED Performance Standards:

Learners have equitable opportunities to develop skills and achieve the content and learning priorities established by the institution. (2.1)

The learning culture develops learners’ attitudes, beliefs and skills needed for success. (2.3)

EdOptions Academy is student-centric and provides a personalized learning experience for every student who is focused on postsecondary success.

The flexibility of how and when students learn is one of the most powerful things about online learning. That’s why our EdOptions Academy staff prioritizes building positive, authentic relationships with each student. We know that we need to understand where students are and their personal and academic goals to serve them well. We recognize that every student will benefit from a unique approach, and we work hard to find out what that approach is.

What We’re Doing to Improve: EdOptions Academy is focusing on close partnership with schools and districts to ensure that students receive the holistic support they need.

We recognize that implementing high-quality, high-efficacy virtual learning at the school or district level is a significant undertaking. We’re working to expand our managed services offerings to help our school and district partners connect with more students and to provide students with the unique services they need, whether that means program design consulting, on-demand tutoring, parent guidance, or more.

Feedback from the AdvancED Engagement Review Team:
“The team learned that [EdOptions] Academy is a student-centered organization focused on the development of all students, ‘without regard for zip codes or past experiences.’ . . . The team noted that organizational practices and procedures have been intentionally implemented with the learner in mind.”

Associated AdvancedED Performance Standards:
Instruction is monitored and adjusted to meet individual learners’ needs and the institution’s learning expectations. (2.7)

EdOptions Academy recognizes that online teaching is special skill, so we make sure that there are meaningful, ongoing development opportunities for teaching staff.

At EdOptions Academy, we have so much respect for the dedication our teachers show every day. Teaching is a challenging job, whether it’s being done in a physical classroom or a virtual environment. Providing our teachers with appropriate support and training in the best practices of virtual teaching is critical in enabling them, in turn, to provide students with the support they need to be successful. Recognizing all of that hard work is equally important—in fact, we just launched our EdOptions Academy Teacher of the Year program to do just that.

What We’re Doing to Improve: EdOptions Academy will expand supports available to our teachers to further support innovative virtual instruction and student success.

We are building new professional learning and instructional services departments to make sure that our teachers are fully equipped with the tools they need to help students achieve growth and proficiency through virtual learning. Our goal is to provide ongoing, intensive professional learning and consistent peer-to-peer collaboration opportunities to support the development of EdOptions Academy teachers, beginning with hosting our first annual, 100-percent teacher-led virtual professional development conference ahead of the 2019–20 school year.

Feedback from the AdvancED Engagement Review Team:
“In reviewing hiring practices, as well as the extensive onboarding, mentoring, and coaching programs that are available for all [EdOptions Academy] employees, it was clear to the team that instructional quality is number one.”

Associated AdvancedED Performance Standards:
The institution’s professional learning structure and expectations promote collaboration and collegiality to improve learner performance and organizational effectiveness. (3.2)

The institution provides induction, mentoring, and coaching programs that ensure all staff members have the knowledge and skills to improve student performance and organizational effectiveness. (3.3)

EdOptions Academy: Areas of Opportunity

There is always room to grow. The reaccreditation process offers a regular chance to evaluate areas where EdOptions Academy can take further steps to support student success. Here are two areas where we know that we can take steps to make EdOptions Academy more impactful for students, plus some concrete steps we are taking to address them.

EdOptions Academy can take steps to make virtual learning a more creative, collaborative experience with greater emphasis on innovation and problem-solving.

Creating moments for students to experience success when working together is challenging in any classroom, especially a wholly virtual one. We’ve already taken steps to build in more opportunities for student engagement, connection, and hands-on learning within EdOptions Academy courses, but we know that this is an area where we can continue to innovate. While we are always on the lookout for new tools, we wholeheartedly support the feedback from AdvancED (Cognia). Our top resource is our teachers, and we are working on ways to give them the space to be creative in their instructional approaches and to share what works with the whole EdOptions team.

What We’re Doing to Improve: EdOptions Academy will expand use of Zoom video conferencing for student engagement.

By further leveraging this valuable tool, we will be able to provide expanded opportunities for synchronous learning and continue to build upon the meaningful, in-person student-teacher connections this software enables. On-demand chat rooms will be available for students enrolled in courses across all four core subjects (English language arts, math, science, and social studies) as of the fall 2019 semester.

Feedback from the AdvancED Engagement Review Team:
“It is recognized that opportunities for the expression of creativity and practice of collaborative problem-solving are unique challenges in the digital learning world. However, 21st century learners need to develop and practice these skills. Interviews with instructional leaders and teachers indicated that, during their weekly meetings, a need exists to capture best practices that have shown promise.”

Associated AdvancedED Performance Standards:
The learning culture promotes creativity, innovation and collaborative problem-solving. (2.2)

EdOptions Academy can offer more robust services and programming to help students plan for college and careers

As EdOptions Academy has grown, we’ve seen more and more the need to think beyond the curriculum and instruction components of virtual learning and put increased emphasis on broader preparation for success beyond the classroom. Rigorous courses are only one piece of the college- and career-readiness puzzle; expanded access to real-world experiences, appropriate guidance, and meaningful mentoring relationships are equally important. This comes back to effective partnership, and we’re continuously working to offer more efficient virtual program consulting services and fine-tune our communication processes with our school and district partners.

What We’re Doing to Improve: EdOptions Academy is growing career and technical education (CTE) pathways and vocational course options.

Our professional career pathways, as well as vocational courses provided through partnership with Smart Horizons, will help students prepare for success beyond high school. These courses will serve students looking for options to support them in directly entering the workforce following high school graduation in high-demand fields like IT, medical care, food services, and customer service.  We have also begun offering parent and school orientation sessions to help students, families, and educators understand how EdOptions Academy partners with schools and districts and to show them the full breadth of resources available.

Feedback from the AdvancED Engagement Review Team:

“The team was unable to identify a formal process for promoting college and career readiness as part of standard practice. In their interviews, leaders agreed that this is an area of need that requires focused attention, while pointing to the fact that this is another instance in which it is difficult to provide such assurances for all participants, as most are not full-time students of the academy.”

Associated AdvancedED Performance Standards:

The institution provides programs and services for learners’ educational future and career planning. (2.8)

Want to learn more about EdOptions Academy’s AdvancED (Cognia) accreditation? Check out our complete AdvancED Engagement Review Report. You can also take a look at EdOptions Academy’s full catalog of 400+ core, elective, CTE, World Languages, and advanced courses, or see how Onslow County School District is retaining student enrollment and experiencing virtual learning success through partnership with EdOptions Academy!