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COVA Board Statement on Graduation Rate

Statement from the Colorado Virtual Academy Board of Directors

Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) is an online public charter school serving a full range of students across the state in kindergarten through high school. The public school is authorized by Adams 12 Five Star School District. We are the independent, nonprofit, board of trustees that governs this public school. We are all volunteers and residents of Colorado.

COVA first began serving students in 2001-2002. Our school has been a leader in online schooling in Colorado delivering high quality academic programs and results for many students across the state. Due to growth in online learning nationally, and increased demand from parents and students searching for more education options, COVA has grown to serve 5100 students in grades K-12.

Although COVA continues to serve students from both ends of the academic spectrum, since opening we have seen a much higher number of academically at-risk students choose to transfer to online public schools like COVA after struggling or failing in traditional schools. A significant number of these students enroll in COVA behind in their credits and not on track to graduate “on time.” This has led to a lower reported graduation rate for the school. But graduation rate calculations are narrowly defined, and can lead to incorrect conclusions about a school’s effectiveness. They are often more of an indicator of what a student did or didn’t do prior to enrolling in an alternative school. Here’s why:

The graduation rate calculates whether a cohort of students graduate within four years after first entering high school. However, graduation rates do not distinguish between students that have been in only one school and students that transferred to one or many schools throughout their high school career. If a student transfers to another school and is behind in their credits, the new school must still graduate them “on time” in their fourth year. This is a significant challenge for public schools of choice that serve a high number of academically at-risk transfer students, and even more so for online public schools that have the capacity to serve students statewide.

In 2009-10 school year two-thirds of the seniors were first-year students in COVA. More than half of these students entered COVA behind and not on track to graduate based on the credits they earned prior to enrolling in our school. These are academically at-risk students. They were falling behind in a regular school and were seeking a public school alternative. Of these, COVA successfully graduated 50 percent of the seniors by working with them an extra year so they could obtain the credits they needed to receive a high school diploma. This is a success for the students, yet these graduates don’t count when calculating COVA’s graduation rate.

Additionally, students who opt to no longer attend COVA because it is too rigorous or not a good fit also count against COVA’s graduation rate.
What is not captured in the graduation rate is COVA’s ability to graduate students on time that were in our school for four years of high school. In 2009-10, COVA had a 100 percent on time graduation rate for the students that were enrolled since their freshman year.

COVA’s reported graduation rate is much more a reflection of a growing number of academically at-risk and credit-deficient students who are transferring to our school than it is about COVA’s ability to successfully graduate students.
The COVA board is committed to serving any family that chooses to enroll its child in our school, even if that child is academically at-risk, with the full understanding that doing so may impact the school’s overall results. Our school is committed to doing what it takes to help all students obtain the credits they need to graduate, even when they come to us below grade level.

COVA is a unique and rigorous academic program that requires significant commitment from the students and families. It is not for every student. If parents decide it is not working for their child, they can freely choose another school.
We strongly believe that children should have public school options and parents should have the freedom to choose those options without barriers. COVA serves all types of students, including children who are academically advanced, children with special needs, medical challenges such as autism, and children who have suffered from bullying or other negative social experiences in schools. For many of these students, statewide online public schools are the only public school alternative they have left. That is why our school’s policy is to be an open option to any student regardless of their zip code, educational background, or academic ability.

Like every school district, our board contracts with providers for products and services. COVA partners with K¹² for its curriculum, technology and school programs. The K¹² curriculum is academically rich, challenging, and extremely popular among our families. We closely monitor school operations and hold K¹² accountable. Compared to traditional schools that receive more funds through a combination of state, local and federal revenues, COVA receives significantly less in total funding to educate a full-time student. This is why we take very seriously our responsibility to be fiscally prudent, and maintain our record of strong accountability to the state, and to our school district authorizer, students, teachers, and parents.

Every school faces academic challenges and none should be satisfied with their results. Schools and educators know there is always room for improvement. We are no different. COVA’s Board of Directors, administrators, teachers, and staff are constantly working on ways to improve student performance and meet the individual academic needs of every child. We are very proud of how we are helping to serve students and families across the state, including those that are looking for alternatives and come to us with academic challenges and special needs.

Sincerely,

COVA Board of Trustees

Tim Booker, President                Lori Cooney, Vice President

Randy DeHoff                            Jeri Bisbee