The final K-12 online learning session that I am blogging at the 2013 annual meeting of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology is:
The FLVS AP Advantage: Exploring the Characteristics of K-12 Student Performance in Online Learning
Scheduled Time: Sat Nov 2 2013, 8:00 to 9:00am Building/Room: 2nd Level – Tower, Salon 1
In Full Session: DDL-K12 Online
Presenters/Authors: *Sharon Johnston (Independent Contractor), *Michael Barbour (Sacred Heart University)
Short Description: While Advanced Placement (AP) online learning is growing, the availability of empirical evidence demonstrating the efficacy of AP online is sparse. The presenters provide the results from a study into AP exam performance of students at FLVS compared to traditional settings, as well as to explore the characteristics of successful K-12 online learners. While including a comparative component, the examination of successful online learners is critical in a field that continues to experience significant growth. (75 words)
Abstract: A key reason for the creation of many online programs (particularly those that began in the 1990s and early 2000s), including Florida Virtual School (FLVS), was to provide access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses for students that did not have access to them in their brick-and-mortar schools (e.g., rural and inner city students). As Mackey and Horn (2009) stated, “the online school filled a direct need for these [under-resourced rural] schools, where administrators often had difficulty finding teachers that could provide high level and Advanced Placement courses” (p. 6). As online leaning grows, the public, lawmakers, and educators demand evidence of the benefit of the new and innovative method of delivery. For example, Davis (2012) stated that online programs “are coming under increasing scrutiny over student achievement and accountability” (p. 1). Published research on the efficacy of AP online is negligible.
An early AP online research project was a qualitative study of the Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) at Stanford University, Learning Links (Olszewski-Kubilius & Lee, 2004). To enroll through EPGY, students had to meet specific SAT or ACT score. Of the 87 AP students responding to the researchers’ questionnaire, only 64 students had taken the 2002 AP exam. Their self-reported scores showed that EPGY AP students performed at a higher level than the national group. However, the EPGY group may have been a more selective group of students (due to the minimum SAT/ACT requirement), and the use of self-reported grades may have also skewed the data. Further, Barbour and Mulchay (2006) examined data from 82 rural Canadian schools that offered AP courses from 1992 to 2003. The researchers observed that the evidence revealed little differences in course grades based on the delivery model. They also observed that fewer rural students completed their online AP course, and even fewer took the AP exam; raising the issue of the retention of students in online AP offered in rural schools.
A case study by Misset, Reed, Scott, Callahan, and Slade (2010) examined the achievement of 138 primarily rural students enrolled in an online advanced environmental science course over a two-year period. Although not targeted as research of AP online, the study reported that 79 of the 138 students took the AP exam option and 30% of those taking the exam earned qualifying scores. Misset et al. (2010) concluded, “… the Project did provide a viable learning alternative for a traditional AP environmental science course” (p. 40). Finally, Florida Tax Watch Center (2007) examined student performance of FLVS students in comparison to Florida students attending traditional schools. Using the 2006-07 data reported by the College Board, the Florida Tax Watch Center reported that “FLVS students outperformed their statewide counterparts on… Advanced Placement examinations” (p. 2).
To study the efficacy of AP online, the researchers conducted a mixed methods inquiry of the FLVS AP program from 2009- 2011. The quantitative data included AP exam scores as provided by the College Board. The year 2009 was selected as a starting point because that was the year FLVS began mandating that all AP students take the exam, which reduced the potential that academic, social, or economic pressures would affect the sampled data. Data related to the nature of the AP students was taken from the FLVS’ student information system. An open-ended survey administrated to all FLVS students enrolled in AP courses during the 2011-12 school year, followed by interviews with a subset of those students provided additional qualitative data.
The research showed that students enrolled in FLVS AP courses, received a qualifying score and scored a 5 at a rate consistent with the national averages. FLVS students outperformed other students in the State of Florida on AP exams each year; in 2011, FLVS students qualifying rate was 12% higher than Florida students in traditional schools. Across the United States, AP students chose not to take the exam for a variety of reasons; including a lack of preparation or lack of support to perform well on the exam, which may have affected the statewide and national figures. The fact that the FLVS had no gatekeeping mechanism, coupled with the fact that FLVS required all AP students to take the exam, meant that the online sample in this study was likely more representative of a true population of online students and students in general.
In comparing the quality of FLVS courses to their traditional classes, 71% of the students perceived their FLVS course as the same or better quality. When asked what aspects of their FLVS AP course they felt contributed to this quality of experience, students selected resubmission of assignments (67%), followed by teacher feedback (64%). One interviewee felt that FLVS did a better job preparing him for the AP exam “because of the precise organization of the modules.” However another interviewee stated that the traditional environment did a better job preparing her because of the class discussions and other classroom interactions. In the survey students selected the traditional as more engaging (56%) than online. All interviewees felt that traditional AP courses were more engaging because of class discussions, Socratic seminars, role playing, etc..
The data indicated that both the online and classroom delivery models could meet the academic needs of students enrolled in AP courses. However, a key observation from the student perceptions (i.e., that AP in the traditional schools was more engaging) may present a challenge to those involved in the delivery of online learning. Perhaps the emphasis on the importance of thinking out loud with classmates can be a catalyst for online programs to create more avenues for engaging students with open-ended dialogue and the Socratic method, both of which appear to vital to student success on AP exams and is consistent with the perspective of Blomeyer (2002):
Online learning or e-learning isn’t about digital technologies any more than classroom teaching is about blackboards. E-learning should be about creating and deploying technology systems that enable constructive human interaction and support the improvement of all teaching and learning. (p. 19)
Barbour, M. K., & Mulcahy, D. (2006). An inquiry into retention and achievement differences in campus based and web based AP courses. Rural Educator, 27(3) 8-12.
Blomeyer, R. L. (2002). Online learning for K–12 students: What do we know now? Naperville, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Available online at http://tinyurl.com/29h38v5
College Board. (2009). Summary reports. Princeton, CT: Author. Retrieved from
College Board. (2010). Summary reports. Princeton, CT: Author. Retrieved from
College Board. (2011). Summary reports. Princeton, CT: Author. Retrieved from
Davis, Michelle. (2012, March 15). E-schools put specific measures for success in place. Education Week.
Florida Tax Watch. (2006). Final report: A Comprehensive assessment of Florida Virtual School. Tallahassee, FL: Center for Educational Performance and Accountability.
Mackey, K., & Horn, M. (2009). Florida Virtual School: An educational case study. Boston, MA: Innosight Institute, Inc.
Missett, T., Reed, C. B., Scott, T. P., Callahan, C. M., & Slade, M. (2010). Describing learning in an advanced online case-based course in environmental science, Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(1), 10-50.
Olszewski-Kubilius, P., & Lee, S. (2004). Gifted adolescents’ talent development through distance learning. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 28, 7–35.
I was a part of this session. However, I had to return to Connecticut yesterday. So Sharon was the sole presenter in this session. Below are the slides she used.