Middle school implements online curriculum to accelerate learning
Blended learning public charter school outperforms district on state tests
College Park Academy (CPA), a public charter middle and high school, uses a blended learning model to prepare students for the top colleges and universities in the nation. Created through an alliance between the City of College Park; one of its largest employers, the University of Maryland; and the local K–12 district, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), CPA opened its doors at the start of the 2013–2014 academic year.
Although the entire school uses Connections Learning, a set of online courses and services now part of the Pearson ConnexusTM suite of offerings, teachers are given the freedom to manage their blended learning classrooms as they see fit. Joshua Young, language arts teacher and department head, combines flipped learning with a rotation model. “With the technology and the online curriculum that our kids have, it’s wonderful that they are able to work outside of the classroom and at their own pace. Students are doing rote memorization, taking notes, or reading outside of the classroom, and then when they come into the classroom, they’re doing more extended projects or discussions.”
Although there is no typical day in Young’s classroom, his 90-minute class period is divided into three segments. “The first segment is an engaging activity for everyone for review or formative assessment. The second part is group projects or discussion or even time for students to present or share their own ideas with the rest of the class. And the third segment is independent learning with computers or taking the online assessments.”
The online curriculum has given teachers time to create deeper, more innovative content. Herbert Williams, science teacher, explained, “Everything is on the computer—the lessons are there, quick checks, discussions, and unit tests. At my last school, I had to do all of that myself. Now I review the whole lesson that I have to teach and take something that is related to the lesson, do some research on it, and develop an activity to reinforce the lesson and content.”
Students, in turn, have had to develop new skills to succeed with the online curriculum. Because of the rigor of the program, students must pace themselves carefully. They need to complete a certain number of units each quarter to stay on track. They have also had to improve their note-taking skills because the online curriculum requires a large amount of reading.
Since CPA’s inception, students have scored higher on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) than students in PGCPS. In 2016, the percentage of students at CPA who met or exceeded standards on these tests exceeded the percentages for the state of Maryland in every grade and subject except 6th-grade math, 8th-grade English, and Algebra 1.
Percentage of Students Who Met or Exceeded Standards on 2016 State Assessments.
Test scores are just one measure of the blended learning school’s success. Students are also learning important life skills that are hard to quantify, like self-regulation and metacognition.
Students are also given the opportunity to challenge themselves by taking courses not offered through PGCPS’s traditional curriculum. “Students have more choices—for example, languages—Connections Learning. There is just no way that we would have been able to offer all those different languages with an on-site teacher because of the budget implications,” explained Dr. Bernadette Ortiz-Brewster, CPA’s executive director.
The best thing that I like about CPA is that students can learn different foreign languages and that they go at their own pace with completing lessons.
Hope, 7th-grade student
CPA’s board, which is chaired by Dr. Wallace D. Loh, president of the University of Maryland, meets regularly to review the data and is happy with the school’s progress so far. And the community seems convinced of CPA’s potential. The school had a waitlist of 500 students in 2014–2015, 1,200 students in 2015–2016, and 1,300 in 2016–2017, indicating that parents and students value what CPA has to offer.
Learn more about College Park Academy’s blended learning implementation by reading the full success story.
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