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Scrap Seat-Time Rules for Struggling Students?

A new report argues that the creation of competency-based pathways and a move away from seat-time requirements is vital for "over-age, under-credited students" who are otherwise at risk of dropping out. And it says states must create innovation spaces that allow districts to develop such pathways that offer freedom from conventional education policies and enough time to evaluate their effectiveness.

The report, a collaboration by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, urban youth advocates Our Piece of the Pie, and education consultants, says that over-age students that are still in school may be deficient in basic learning skills, are under exacerbated pressure to earn money to support themselves and their families, and may face social and emotional stress beyond that of most students. An online or blended learning environment that allows students to master those skills at their own pace, demonstrates progress to the student so he or she gains some self-belief, and allows for little or no interruption of a student's work and home life is more likely to help a student graduate, the report contends.

In creating innovation programs to help generate such programs, states need to consider how to gain funding for the project, allow enough time for development, implementation, and evaluation, and transform evaluation of the pilot into continuous evolution of the program, the report adds.

The general idea of more malleable online and blended learning programs being best-suited for at-risk students isn't new. Last February, I wrote a report roundup about a program in Texas that targeted community college students who were taking remedial math. And districts big and small—like Chicago, for example—have begun to embrace online and blended learning as an easy way to offer credit recovery courses, despite reservations about its effectiveness.

The question, though, may be this: We know the general flow of online education in K-12 has run from students on both ends of the bell curve— the exceptional students who aren't being challenged, and the struggling students who are falling behind—to the general student populous. But within the wide range of online and blended learning—from real-time synchronous classes to completely independent correspondence programs, and everything in betweeen—is competency-based learning the best method for all students?

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