Questions remain as Department of Education works on finalizing Learn Everywhere rules

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On Thursday, April 11, the New Hampshire Department of Education presented a new draft of the rules that authorize the Learn Everywhere program to the State Board of Education. The Learn Everywhere program would allow students to take core academic and elective courses at nonprofit and private organizations that districts would be required to accept and include in student transcripts.

The Department of Education convened a stakeholder group for two sessions in March and April 2019 to collect feedback and address concerns with rules as they were originally proposed. The Department released a draft version of the final rules with the State Board of Education meeting packet on Wednesday, April 10.

The rule revisions incorporated provisions for accommodations for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans, requires providers to adopt competency-based grading systems, changes the minimum number of credits a student can receive through a Learn Everywhere program, clarifies the certification process, and program monitoring.

Credits and Grading

The revised rules require districts to grant credit for a minimum of one-third of a student’s mandatory courses required for graduation. The original rules did not specify the number of credits which raised concerns that students could take all credits outside of the high school and through Learn Everywhere. The revisions state that a student could take up to one third of their graduation requirements, including core classes like Algebra and US History, in a private organization outside of their school.

But the revised rules allow students to take 100% of their courses through Learn Everywhere with superintendent approval.

Approved providers must adhere to a competency-based grading system (similar to the 1-4 grading system or “Exceeds Proficiency, Proficient, Approaching Proficient, and Not Proficient used in some schools in New Hampshire), but the program would award credit on a “Mastery”/fail system. Students would demonstrate that they “mastered” the learning objectives set by the Learn Everywhere program in order to earn academic credit.

Impact on College Admissions

In its current form, credits from Learn Everywhere must show on high school transcripts as pass or fail and would not negatively affect a student’s grade point average (GPA).

However, some have raised concerns with the implications of a pass/fail course on a student’s transcript, especially if students are permitted to take core classes (English Language Arts, math, laboratory science, etc) through Learn Everywhere.

Colleges and Universities like the University of New Hampshire-Durham, Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, and St. Anselm College in Manchester have minimum requirements to be considered for admission. Most require four years of English along with three or more years of math, science, and social science. Many have requirements for foreign language courses.

Specific programs like engineering, nursing, or business have additional requirements: from Calculus, to biology and chemistry, to physics or statistics.

At many New Hampshire universities, these courses would have to be graded on a student’s transcript in order for them to count and for the student to be considered for admission. This could potentially mean that students, not recognizing the implications of their transcript on their college application as a Senior, could either be shut out of various colleges and universities because they have not met the application requirements, or be required to retake those courses in order to be considered.

Special Education and Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

The most recent public version of the Learn Everywhere rules include requirements for accommodations for students with disabilities. Under the rules, Learn Everywhere providers must include a policy that describes how the program would coordinate with the student’s public school for students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to coordinate required special education programs and support services required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Public schools, including charter schools, in New Hampshire are subject to the provisions of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, state laws, and rules. These laws and rules are intended to protect students with disabilities and their families and specify the school’s role and responsibilities in providing students with a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE).

The revised rules cite federal law and stipulate that a student’s school would be responsible for providing the student with special education related services, aides, accomodations, and modifications outlined in their IEP. However, the cited federal law does not require school districts to provide services in out-of-district programs. The revised rules also leave the student’s school open to potentially large costs. For example, if a student requires a paraprofessional, the proposed rules indicate that the district must provide the paraprofessional to accompany the student, even if the program is offsite and/or outside of regular school hours.

Under the rules, the student’s school is also responsible for determining and ensuring that the program is appropriate for the student. But, the programs are run and managed by organizations outside of the school’s control, and the school has no role in managing the supervision or direction of the program.

The current rules do not reference the state laws and rules relating to protections and safeguards for students with disabilities and their families. These include rules relating to evaluation, behavioral and emergency interventions, class size, personnel standards, change in placement, confidentiality, complaint procedures, dispute resolution, and other safeguards.

Program Approval and Accountability

The revised rules include a process for approval, monitoring, and oversight of approved Learn Everywhere providers by the Department of Education.

They addressed concerns with the State Board’s ability to properly vet programs for approval. Under a new provision, an approval committee would be created consisting of Department of Education representatives, a representative from the Extended Learning Opportunity Network (ELON), and up to two New Hampshire licensed educators that teach in the content area for which the provider would offer programming.

The revised rules have a different monitoring and oversight process for Learn Everywhere providers and programs. Because the State Board of Education would approve and manage Learn Everywhere providers, the rules specify a process for families, students, and others to file complaints with the State Board directly.

Traditionally, school districts specify policies and procedures for various aspects of how their schools operate, that are public for anyone to review. There are channels that families, students, and community members can use to raise complaints and concerns. Many of these policies are set at the local level, and include approaching the district’s school board.

For example, the Windham School District publishes their policies on their web page, including processes for administration, school security, food service, curriculum development and adoption, grading system and homework policy, responding to claims of sexual harassment, and many others. This provides families with an understanding of how their child’s school is operated, and provides community members with an idea of how their tax dollars are being spent. Questions, complaints, and concerns about policies and procedures can be brought publicly to the school board.

Public charter schools are a bit different. They are managed by a board of trustees, where members are accountable to families and students. State law plainly states which laws and rules apply to public charter schools. For example, public charter schools must adhere to state bullying laws that require schools to protect students from bullying, respond to accusations of bullying, notify families of the victim and perpetrator, and report on bullying instances.

However, the current version of the Learn Everywhere rules are not as clear and do not plainly specify the state laws and rules that providers and programs would be required to follow. This ambiguity, if unaddressed, could potentially put students, families, and the providers themselves, at risk.

More about the Learn Everywhere Program

Introduced in December 2018, the proposal would allow the State Board to approve programs that would require districts to award academic credits for learning outside the classroom. It would transfer the authority to approve academic programs from the local school district and school board, to the State Board of Education, a 7-member body whose members are appointed by the Governor and Executive Council.

Programs run by nonprofit and for-profit organizations like the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, Big Fish Learning Academy, and others could be eligible to offer academic credit. As currently written, the rules would require districts to accept these credits towards their graduation requirements.  Read more about the Learn Everywhere program and how it compares with existing opportunities for our students here.

During the public hearing, questions remained about the financial impact to students, families, and districts, the local authority of districts, and educator credentialing.

Next Steps

According to state law, the Department of Education is required to present a final proposal of the rules to the State Board of Education, and the State Board must vote on whether to advance them to the next phase. From there, they go to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR), which is a 10-member committee that approves all proposed rules in the state.

The State Board of Education received an extension from JLCAR and is scheduled to vote on the Learn Everywhere rules at their meeting on Thursday, June 13. If the State Board approves them, they will move to JLCAR, where the committee will hear public testimony and then vote on whether to accept the rules.

The State Board is accepting public testimony on the rules right up until they vote in June. Parties can submit electronic testimony to Angela Adams at angela.adams@doe.nh.gov or can testify in person at their next meeting on Wednesday, May 8 at the Academy for Science and Design in Nashua, or at their June meeting at the Department of Education office in Concord.

Read more about Learn Everywhere