State audit: N.C. Virtual Public School courses lack required rigor

Eleven of the 12 courses offered by N.C. Virtual Public School (NCVPS) and reviewed by an independent evaluator are at such a low level that they are “not engaging” and do not “help students achieve learning objectives” required by the state, according to a state performance audit of the online school.

Eight of 12 audited courses did not meet required curriculum content standards, which increased the risk that students would not be taught all required subject matter, the audit said.

Physical Science, American History 2, AP Environmental Science, and AP Government
and Politics were the only courses of the 12 that include 100% of the required standards.

Independent evaluator Xperience Education was asked to determine if state standards were taught and to measure rigor and student engagement.

NCVPS offered 98 Advanced Placement (AP), general, and honors courses that covered core subjects like English, Math, World Language, and electives during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years.

Click this link to see the audit.

NCVPS provides e-learning for more than 32,000 North Carolina high school students and select middle schoolers. The virtual school is expected to be a critical asset if students continue remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since schools closed in mid-March, NCVPS has hosted 93 webinars to help more than 30,000 educators learn more about remote instruction.

Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to reveal plans to reopen the state’s public schools on Wednesday.

The audit found that teacher evaluations were not performed consistently and in accordance with NCVPS policy.

Auditors reviewed 622 teacher evaluations and found that:

  • 136 of 622 (22%) of teacher evaluation contained no evidence of review or were not timely reviewed.
  • 120 (19%) evaluations contained no evidence that teacher performance issues were addressed.
  • 82 (13%) evaluations contained incorrect ratings according to the instructions on the NCVPS evaluation document.
  • 14 (2%) evaluations were missing required information such as the teacher’s response.

Auditors also found that course content was not properly cited to avoid copyright infringement, as required under NCVPS policy.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson agreed with findings regarding NCVPS teacher evaluations. He also agreed that the school failed to properly cite course content.

Johnson disagreed, however, with findings critical of course rigor for 11 courses and the auditor’s finding that eight courses did not meet required content standards.

“Determination related to content alone meeting a standard is a subjective test, with varying results from one person to another, including the third-party vendor.” Johnson wrote. “The role of the teacher and related instruction were not evaluated as a part of the audit.”

The audit is accompanied by additional explanation from the State Auditor Beth Wood.

The Office of State Auditor must provide an explanation when the audited agency’s response could “cloud an issue, mislead the reader, or inappropriately minimize the importance of the auditor’s findings.”

The explanation pointed out inaccuracies in Johnson’s response, including a claim that NCVPS 2019 Advanced Placement exam pass rate of 51.3% was “significantly higher than the state (21.4%) and national (23.9%)” pass rates.

The actual pass rates for the state was 56.4% and the national pass rate was 59.1%.

It’s worth noting that NCDPI and state auditors could not agree on whether the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (RBT) is a recognized industry standard for course rigor.

NCDPI says no.

State auditors say yes.

“RBT is one of the most universally applied cognitive rigor frameworks and is the recognized and adopted standard of rigor for NCVPS,” auditors wrote. “At the time the audit was conducted, NCVPS guaranteed that each of its courses were ‘grounded in Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.’ After NCVPS was informed of the audit findings, it removed the course guarantee from its website.”

The audit is the second released by the Office of the State Auditor in as many weeks critical of NCDPI’s practices.

Last week, auditors found “significant mistakes and omissions” in NCDI s 2019 financial statement, including one error that led the agency to overstate the payable claims balance in its Public  School Insurance Fund’s by $23 million.

This audit report shows that they have done some fundamental things incorrectly,” State Auditor Beth Wood said about the financial statement.

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