Massachusetts Virtual Academy (MAVA) is the first 100% virtual school in the State of Massachusetts. Many of their students are in danger of dropping out of school, have not been successful in school environments, or have been home schooled need outside support to complete their k-12 education.
The school’s scores on the Massachusetts Common Assessment System (MCAS) were very low, which was not unexpected for their student body. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reached the conclusion that the school was not providing adequate education for the students and was threatening to shut it down.
The approach with MAVA was two-pronged. First, we demonstrated that the cohort of schools that MAVA was being compared to (which DESE based entirely on common grade-span) was not an accurate, fair or effective cohort group.
This was accomplished by doing a high-level demographic analysis of all schools in the state. We built both an appropriate cohort group, based on similar demographic structures and a fictional school that was representative of the entire student body of MAVA, using random sampling from the districts that MAVA draws students from.
Second, we used our analysis to build a suite of rigorous measures that painted a more accurate picture of the progress the school was making with students.
The suite of measures accomplished two goals. First, the school gained valuable insight into its strengths and weaknesses as an institution. The rhetoric went from “the school is failing” to “there are specific, targeted areas for improvement, and there are specific strengths on which we can build.”
Second, DESE endorsed the plan as being responsible and effective. They removed the stigma of “failure” from the school and pledged to use the school’s accountability plan as a model for other virtual schools or schools with alternative models.