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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho panel OKs online course grad requirement

Idaho state Board of Education subcommittee on online learning meets on Thursday morning. (Betsy Russell)
BOISE - Despite overwhelming opposition at seven public hearings around the state, a subcommittee of Idaho’s State Board of Education voted today to require next year’s Idaho high school freshmen to complete two online courses to graduate from high school. One of the two must be “asynchronous” - taught remotely, without a teacher present in the classroom with students, and with students and the teacher participating on their own schedule. The panel did vote unanimously, however, to revise the rule to remove an outright ban on the teacher ever being present in the classroom with the students during course time. Under the change, as long as all the curriculum is delivered in an online platform, the teacher of an asynchronous course could drop in occasionally to interact with students. “I teach online college courses and the college students will come in and ask for help,” said Kurt Scheffler, a teacher and administrative intern at Vision Charter School in Caldwell. “To say they can’t do that at the high school level I think doesn’t make sense.” The panel, which includes two state board members, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and several school trustees and administrators from around the state, voted 6-2 to adopt the rule as-is, though only eight of the 76 people who testified at the hearings or submitted written comments backed it. Meridian School District trustee Anne Ritter was one of the two “no” votes; Scheffler was the other. “I think the parental concerns need to be looked at,” Ritter told the other panel members, who met via videoconference, with linkups from Boise to Coeur d’Alene, Moscow and several other locations at schools. “I have huge concerns,” she said of the rule. “I think it’s too far too fast. I think flexibility would have been a much better approach.” Ritter argued for doing away with the “asynchronous” requirement for now, but several other committee members spoke out in favor of it, saying students will need to be able to take that kind of class when they get to college. Andy Grover, Melba school superintendent, said in his district, “We have about an 80 percent passing rate for asynchronous courses.” Students who fail go back into a traditional class, he said. He said he saw merits to flexibility for school districts, but also saw merit to exposing students to that type of course. The new online-class graduation requirement now heads to the State Board of Education, which will consider it in a special meeting between now and Sept. 9. If the board approves it, it’d take effect immediately as an administrative rule; it’d go before lawmakers review during the legislative session that starts in January, at which point they could reject it or let it stand. Next year’s high school freshmen - the class of 2016 - would be the first to face the new requirement. The panel opened its meeting today by reviewing the public input from the seven hearings, which included one last week in Coeur d’Alene. About 100 people showed up, 46 testified, and 30 submitted written comments. Of the 46 who testified, only eight supported the rule as written. All the rest opposed the rule, wanted it changed or had concerns about how it would work. Of the 30 written comments, all opposed the rule as written, raising concerns about parent choice, impact on disadvantaged students, infrastructure and more. The subcommittee did agree to two other changes in the rule suggested in the public testimony, to make sure disabled students have access to alternatives and to remove a clause that required students who fail an online class to wait until their junior year for alternative approaches. Several subcommittee members expressed concerns about students failing online classes; under the “fractional ADA” clause of Idaho’s school reform legislation, the district loses a portion of its funding for that student for every online class taken, so districts wouldn’t want to encourage repeated online course-taking for those who’ve failed. Though Idaho’s requirement for students to pass the Idaho Standards Achievement Test for graduation lets student repeat the test until they pass it, that doesn’t reduce district funding or brand the students with F’s on their transcripts, members noted. Goedde said after the meeting that he thought the rule as approved was “fine.” He said, “I think the changes that were made today were good.” Goedde, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the rule will “start Idaho students down the road to digital education,” and “provide students with job skills that they’re going to need when they enter the workforce, and with the skills to move forward in the post-secondary environment where more and more classes are being offered online.” He dismissed the negative testimony at the seven public hearings, saying, “I don’t know the makeup of the people that testified.” “I was there for the Coeur d’Alene testimony, and without exception, every person that testified was either an educator or a former educator,” Goedde said. “And I think that is just consistent with their insistence that education reform is a bad thing.”