Finding that Perfect Match: How to Evaluate an Online School

 

Last Updated: Jul 15, 2020 11:09:00 AM

Student wearing a maskCovid-19 has roiled our lives – and permanently changed education. Even assuming that school systems institute changes that make a return to classroom instruction safer, what does “safer” mean? It certainly does not mean “safe.”

And if one can get past subjecting students to the relative risk of contagion on returning to schools and classrooms, exactly how rules on testing, social-distancing, and mask-wearing will be promulgated and enforced are completely open questions.

Many families are confused when it comes to choosing a virtual school.Given the uncertainties, is it any wonder that many parents want to continue with virtual schooling by turning to online schools for their students? All online education is not the same in quality, as parents will attest. So, what are the criteria parents should consider when choosing a provider of virtual schooling? This post will answer that question.

Top 10 things to consider when evaluating an online school:

1. Live instruction

A virtual education with live instructionMany virtual programs substitute recorded sessions in place of live instructors, a paradigm known as asynchronous instruction. The best programs utilize synchronous instruction, in which the student and teacher are online at the same time and the teacher is delivering the instruction directly to the students. This is far more effective and advantageous to the students because an instructor can pause if a student is confused or has a question and can switch instructional methods to best suit his/her class.

2. Structure

A structured school schedule in a virtual schoolMany virtual programs provide you with a “suggested weekly calendar,” which causes both confusion and acrimony in a household because students see the word “suggested” and assume they do not have to do the work if he/she doesn’t want to. The more structure a school puts in place, the better it is for students and parents, not to mention teachers, each of whom must enter each session – and each block of sessions – with a plan. Students should know where they are supposed to be and when they must be there; likewise, students should know exactly when assignments should be tackled at home and have firm deadlines to turn the work in to his/her teacher.

3. Limited Class Sizes

Small class sizes are essential to a successful virtual school“Online” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “depersonalized” – but if class sizes are too large, that’s inevitable. The importance to learning of good interpersonal relationships between students and teachers has been long-studied and widely accepted. But large class sizes diminish teachers’ abilities to interact personally with each student. Further, large class sizes make it exceedingly difficult to tailor instruction to an individual student’s needs. Our experience with thousands of our students convinces us that over six students per class decreases personalization and individualization in a class, while one-on-one teaching can obviate both of those problems and be ideal.

4. Flexibility

Online schools that tailor instruction to meet individual student’s needs are clearly the right choice. Among the best practices are:

    • finding the "right" method to connect virtually for each child (step-by-step, some self- study, mostly self-study with feedback, etc.)
    • use of a multi-sensory approach that includes visuals, not just verbal presentations
    • dynamic face-to-face virtual teaching with continual opportunities for student questions and group discussions
    • team collaboration on projects, if possible
    • assigned and audited homework, including research and projects
    • use of quizzes and tests
    • teacher “office hours” that allow students to make appointments to get extra help
    • the ability to “flip the classroom” – if appropriate for students’ learning – so that what would ordinarily be “homework” is done during the class, and non-class hours are spent preparing for the next class session
    • providing needed services for students with learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD

5. Communication

Regularly scheduled, frequent feedback to both students and parents is very important. So, too, is immediate feedback to both students and parents when called for, e.g., when students miss sessions or when they do absolutely superior work.

6. Experience

Experience matters when choosing a virtual schoolThere are probably some recent medical school graduates who will be good neurosurgeons, but if we were the patient, we’d prefer a surgeon with a long, successful record. Similarly, schools with long experience and demonstrably successful results in online education should top a parent’s list. An online school’s experience is typically found in the “About” section of the school’s website.

7. Accreditation

Schools that are accredited by well-recognized, independent, national and/or regional accrediting agencies have met rigorous criteria in achieving and maintaining their accreditation. Because of that, credits and scores earned by students of those schools are far more likely to be accepted by other K-12 and post-secondary schools. Here, too, information on accreditation is typically found in the “About” section of the school’s website.

8. Diversity of Educational Offerings

a good virtual program will have lots of choicesA broad range of classes offered means that students’ needs can be met both now and in the future. That, in turn, assures continuity, a precious thing for students undergoing the stresses they’re facing both in and out of the classroom. Continuity can be especially important for students with learning issues.

9. Program & Class Availability

This goes hand-in-hand with diversity of educational offerings. You want to make sure that your student can enroll in the classes he/she needs to further his/her education in a timely manner.

10. Ancillary Services

After it's all said and done, it's the little things that matter in a virtual education.While not necessarily as critical as the above criteria, if multiple schools you’re researching seem to qualify, then consider closely those that have Certified Educational Planners on staff and that offer other services (e.g., college counseling and educational planning, including  curriculum planning & support for homeschooling families). Such organizations will help you reach your goals and should tip the scale in their favor.

 

Score At The Top has an excellent virtual school option. Naturally, Score At The Top meets all of the above criteria, and has met them for years, something of which we’re justifiably proud. We’re ready to help your student thrive in the online education world that grows in importance with each passing week. 


Topics: College Counseling Score Academy Homeschool Support VirtualSchool ScoreTips

 

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