By Madelynn Coldiron
When it comes to performance- or project-based credits and other variations of off-site learning, the Kentucky Department of Education has a message for school districts:
Go for it.
The Kentucky Department of Education’s David Cook has been making the rounds of education cooperative meetings to clarify, among other points, that the state pupil attendance regulation permits a range of those nontraditional credit options. And, he said, the state education department is not standing in the way of districts that want to take advantage of this.
PHOTO: Students from Eminence High School listen to a presentation in a cross-disciplinary course at Bellarmine University in which students were partnered with a global business. Photo provided by Eminence Independent Schools
“We’re recognizing that the way the regulation is set up we really ought to be more flexible about what people are asking for,” he said.
Under the regulation (702 KAR 7:125), Cook said, if a district demonstrates a student completed and passed a nontraditional course with content aligned to the state’s core standards, he or she will get full credit and the district will get full average daily attendance funding just as if the student were sitting in a classroom.
“It’s not so much that all of a sudden one day we woke up and this stuff was OK,” said Cook, director of the Division of Innovation and Partner Engagement. “As long as this regulation has been here, it’s always been OK, but there seems to be more of an open sense of, ‘If you can show us it’s happening, we’re not going to nitpick as much about whether or not you should get full credit for that kid.’
“So, for example, if a kid is doing virtual (learning) – and they were off site or at home or whatever the case may be – as long as the district has developed a method for allowing us to see that so that we can verify it, we’re not going to be as persnickety about it.”
Cook uses the term performance-based as an umbrella term encompassing new or alternative ways of earning
credits such as:
• Off-campus virtual classes
• Dual-credit courses
That unofficial list could contain more permutations in the future –“including but not limited to,” laughed Cook.
Eminence Independent Superintendent Buddy Berry, whose district had an innovative dual-credit program even before being named a District of Innovation, said KDE “has been a phenomenal partner” in helping the district find “legitimate, legal ways” to meet its needs.
“They are trying to find solutions and not present problems,” Berry said.
Cheri Meadows, KDE’s branch manager of student tracking and transportation, said districts need to check with her office first to be sure what they are proposing falls within the scope of the attendance regulation.
“Once they know what they want to do, they could speak to their director of pupil personnel, who would be the point of contact for them to talk to us,” she said. “What we have to do – and this is at an individual level – we take the individual student and we talk with the district about what they want to do and then we get it set up in Infinite Campus (the student information system) correctly. We haven’t run into anything yet that we can’t help them with.”
The program for Infinite Campus is set up to accommodate tracking both traditional and nontraditional types of courses and the funding tied to them for each student, she said.
Perceived KDE attitude may not be the only reason districts have been hesitant to invoke these provisions in the attendance regulation. Funding may be a barrier, Cook said. Unlike regular ADA funding, the state money for these non-seat-time types of credits isn’t doled out to districts until the course is completed with a passing grade, typically after each semester.
“Attendance is reported every day and any growth money a district gets extra is all front-end,” Cook said. “In a performance-based environment, it’s after the fact.”
There also is a risk that the district would end up with nothing if a student does not successfully complete or pass the nontraditional course. If a student in a seat-time class flunks it, the district still receives funding.
“That’s a scary proposition if you’ve never done that before,” Berry said. “It’s all or nothing funding.”
That’s counterbalanced by the amount of funding a district receives when a student is successful in a nontraditional class: It is full funding, whereas funding for a student in a regular class is shaved by any absences he incurs.
And, Berry said, the risk is worth what students receive: “What they’re coming back with from that experience, you can’t put a price on.”
Meadows said it’s important for districts to know exactly what they want to do before contacting KDE, “because we’re not going to tell them what to do.
“They have to work out ‘Here’s what we want the schedule to do. Here’s how we want the student to be served in our district.’ Once they figure that part out, we can take it from there and, with them, we can figure out a way to work out that student’s schedule in (Infinite) Campus and make that happen.”
Involving KDE at the ground level “is the key,” Berry agreed.
Meadows said in addition to lining up a nontraditional class with her office, districts need to be sure that option is right for the student.
“You wouldn’t want to put a child in a course that they’re not prepared for. So if you’re going to use performance-based, you really do need to look at the course and the student and what kind of support you offer them if they need a little bit of help with anything in the course,” she said.
The district is responsible for making the sure the course or project fits curriculum and core content. It’s also up to schools to figure out how these nontraditional courses will fit into a student’s grade point average, Meadows said.
Cook said a district needs to be sure it is prepared internally for offering these options, and not just adopt blindly what another school system is doing.
“Before you really even think about an innovation or think about doing something with performance-based credit, do you really know if your district has a culture that is set up to embrace those kinds of things,” he said.