SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Leaders of Indiana's two largest online charter
schools say low student test scores don't tell the whole picture of how
the schools are performing.
Hoosier Academies and Indiana Connections Academy are both sponsored by
Ball State University. Neither school came close to the state average
for ISTEP+ scores last year. Ball State has ordered Hoosier Academies to
submit a corrective action plan after it received an "F'' on the state's
A-F grading scale two years in a row.
Teran Armstrong, head of school for Hoosier Academies, said rapid growth
and a lack of best practices in the new world of virtual education have
contributed to the school's challenges.
"We went from 500 students to 1,800 students to this year, we had
4,000," Armstrong told the South Bend Tribune.
"We're learning how to best serve the type of students we serve. I tell
our teachers we are expected to perform on par with brick and mortars
that have been there for a century and have a mascot and football
So far, that hasn't happened.
The South Bend Tribune reports just 57 percent of the school's students
passed both parts of the ISTEP+ exam in 2011 and 48 percent did so in
2012. The statewide average is about 70 percent for those years.
"I'm not concerned," Armstrong said of the scores. "You're looking at a
combination of achievement from students who come in very far behind in
credits to students pursuing other interests and are trying to complete
their schooling, like pre-Olympic gymnasts."
But Ball State officials are concerned.
Bob Marra, executive director of Ball State's Office of Charter Schools,
said Hoosier Academies is not meeting the academic performance standards
the charter authorizer expects and assesses each year.
"They'll have to start looking at where the issues are and submit a
corrective action plan," Marra said.
Indiana Connections Academy had better test scores but still faces
Sixty-two percent of its students passed both parts of ISTEP+ in 2011
and 59 percent did so in 2012. But the school received a letter grade
from the state of B in 2011 and a D in 2012.
"Obviously, they're going in the wrong direction," Marra said.
Principal Melissa Brown said she is disappointed by the school's
performance but said many factors beyond test scores need to be
"The types of students we are serving are struggling. That's why they
come to us. It's going to take us a few years to turn the tide there,"
she said. "I'm confident we've put the strategies in place to help our
"We've saved lives already, and students are learning who wouldn't have
in a traditional setting."
What the future holds for the virtual schools, and others that might
follow, isn't clear. Researchers at the National Education Policy Center
at the University of Colorado Boulder issued a report in May that likens
the policy-making surrounding virtual public schools to the Wild West.
"There are outsized claims, intense conflicts, lots of taxpayer money at
stake and very little solid evidence to justify the rapid expansion of
virtual education," the NEPC report says.
Western Michigan University professor Gary Miron, one of the study's
authors, said virtual schools are "two to three years ahead of the
legislators." He said many states haven't crafted laws governing issues
specific to virtual schools, such as tracking how much time students
Armstrong, from Hoosier Academies, says the school cares about its
"I will be the first to state that virtual education, at this point, is
not for everybody," she said. "It's a choice. ... We're here to serve
the niche of families who feel they need this option."