Online Learning and Questionmark Give Failing Children a Second Chance

Background

Public school students fail for many reasons. Some learn differently than the majority of students in the class. Others need more time and can’t keep up. Another group has behavior or discipline problems that interfere with learning, theirs and others in class. No matter what the reason, educators know that once a student falls behind and fails it’s quite difficult to reintegrate him or her into the classroom.

Understanding this challenge clearly, Chris Sherman, coordinator of the online academy for the El Paso (Texas) Independent School District, decided to try a different approach. Rather than having already overworked teachers try to spend more time with these challenging students, he decided to provide them with an opportunity to take remedial courses outside the classroom, either before or after school, in the subjects in which they are failing.

“Let’s say a student fails a lesson or a section of a math class; he just wasn’t understanding a concept,” Sherman said. “That student will have difficulty going on, because future lessons are based on the assumption that the student has mastered this concept. Immediate intervention is critical, and it is important to do it without stealing valuable time from the regular classroom.”

Online Academy Provides Opportunities to Succeed

By creating what the El Paso schools are calling the Online Academy, an academic safety net has been provided for the students. Students who are failing can enroll in online courses, taking interactive lessons about the material that they didn’t master in the classroom. Once the concepts have been mastered, teachers can adjust a student’s grade to reflect the student’s progress. The goal is simple: if students want to pass they can pass. Currently the academy offers English courses, algebra, physical science, chemistry, and world geography.

The computer skills of these failing students are often minimal. Therefore, the first activity is to introduce students to the tools they’ll be using. Sherman has created an interactive lesson that simulates the learning environment. A flash lesson walks them through how to log in, what screens they’ll see when they get there, what a typical test will look like, and what button they’ll click on when they’re finished.

Many do well in the online environment though some don’t. Those who do well enjoy being able to work at their own pace, to review the material as often as they need to and to work interactively.

Questionmark Eases Work for Teachers

Tests that students take when completing a course unit must, of course, still be graded. Sherman realized that in order to not bog teachers down with this extra work the academy would need a computerized testing and reporting system. He decided to use Questionmark to assess how students were doing.

“It meets all our assessment needs,” Sherman commented “It’s seamless for the kids. They connect to Questionmark through a link right in the program. They click on it and it launches the test.”

Since Questionmark's randomizing function allows the schools to vary the questions on each test, the academy has created a database of hundreds of questions. Making each test different minimizes cheating. Teachers also monitor the tests.

The teachers also like the grade book feature that enables them to view and calculate final grades based on several assessments. This report includes the ability to weight individual test scores so they contribute more or less to the final grade.“

We use Questionmark for Web Quests, essay writing, reading guides, and multiple-choice tests,” Sherman said. Sherman also uses Questionmark to create what he calls video guides, in which students view a film or video and then answer questions about it. The program makes it possible for students to view streaming video in one portion of the screen and answer questions about it on another portion, simultaneously. If the students get behind they can pause the video, finish answering the question, and then push “play” to continue

Results

The early results have been impressive. At one school for example, fifteen students enrolled and eleven passed. What makes that result so positive is that the learners in the courses are at-risk students who are already in a cycle of failure. Sherman is justly proud of the fact that the academy is able to rescue those who are willing to give school a second chance.