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Utah and Florida Top the 2014 Digital Learning Report Card

Plus, three trends are currently taking place in digital education.

by / April 28, 2015
The 2014 Digital Learning Report Card measures state policies on digital learning. Digital Learning Now

The Foundation for Excellence in Education has released the 2014 Digital Learning Now Report Card, which measures state progress in creating policies that integrate new education models. This year, Florida and Utah were the only two states to receive A grades.

“The new battlefield for innovation is happening at the local level and state level,” said John Bailey, the foundation’s vice president of policy. “We focus almost exclusively on changing state policy to create more and better education opportunities for kids around the country. There’s many folks who do local work but we play a unique role in working with governors and state lawmakers.”

Noteworthy findings in the 2014 report include:

  • Shift up toward the middle for many states
  • 50 percent of the states improved their grades overall
  • 14 states moved up one letter grade
  • 9 states moved out of the “F” category

Of the report's two “A” states, Utah and Florida, the Sunshine State is especially highlighted for its effort around competency-based education. In 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature passed HB 7059, Acceleration Options in Public Education. Florida students who master learning material can move on to another course. Students who are challenged can take more time.

Utah is recognized for its approach to student data. Passed in 2013, SB 82 gives parents, guardians and authorized local education agencies access to a student's learning profile from kindergarten through grade 12 in an electronic format known as a Student Achievement Backpack.

The report is based on 10 elements of high-quality digital learning:

  1. Student Eligibility
  2. Student Access
  3. Personalized Learning
  4. Advancement
  5. Quality Content
  6. Quality Instruction
  7. Quality Choices
  8. Assessment and Accountability
  9. Funding
  10. Delivery

“The 10 elements support the advancement of digital education,” Bailey said. “Every year since, we’ve measured states on how well they’ve adjusted their polices based on those elements. The 10 elements help to modernize state’s regulations.”

The report’s author Erin Lockett, policy coordinator at Foundation for Excellence in Education, said that all states in general made incremental movements toward those 10 elements.

“States are implementing some of the 422 pages of legislation that have passed over the past four years,” she said. “A lot of it resolves around infrastructure, competency-based education and online learning.”

The report highlights the following policies:
  • Louisiana: In the 2014-2015 school year, students enrolled in more than 19,000 courses through the state’s Course Access program.
  • Minnesota: The Online and Digital Learning Advisory Council identifies rules and laws that are barriers to innovation and online learning.
  • Ohio: The Straight A Innovation Fund, a part of HB 59, distributes $250 million through a grant process to encourage innovative strategies, such as blended learning.
  • Arizona: SB 1255, known as Creating Competency-Based Pathways to Postsecondary Education, provides multiple options within and beyond high school for students to demonstrate minimum college readiness. 

One potential challenge for lower-scoring states is policy barriers to new models and ways of thinking. Some state laws restrict student eligibility for online courses. Other state laws allow students to only take courses that are already offered in the schools. And there's also the issue of laws that don’t allow for competency-based learning and keep students on a fixed schedule. Illinois, for example, restricted full-time online learning except for in special-selected areas of the state. 

“We want every bill that’s passed to be a well informed bill,” Bailey said, “that creates opportunities and does not limit opportunities for teachers and students.”

Bailey described three trends currently taking place in digital education:

  1. Shifting from a focus on the components of online learning to a fundamental re-thinking in the methodology. 
  2. An uptick in course access for students. If a district does not have access to a teacher for a specific subject matter, there is no longer a reason for students to be deprived of such course.
  3. The rise and concern around data privacy. Lawmakers and stakeholders wrestle to create policies that do not shut out innovation.

In the past year and a half, Bailey said 300 bills were introduced specifically around the subject of data privacy.

“The problem is not sparking legislation,” he said. “It’s ensuring that it’s well informed. We want policymakers to set out bold reforms and use this report card as road map to modernize their state policies. We want them to spark and spur this into action as well as replicate what other a state’s have done across the country.”

Jessica Renee Napier Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.

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