Home Poll finds majority of Virginians favor more high school online learning opportunities

Poll finds majority of Virginians favor more high school online learning opportunities


vcu-logoA majority of respondents in a new Virginia Commonwealth University Commonwealth Education Poll support online learning opportunities for high school credit.

The poll, conducted annually by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, found almost two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) favored allowing students to earn high school credits online, while 33 percent opposed the practice.

There were significant differences in support by age cohort, with younger respondents more in favor of online credits options. Fully 72 percent of those aged 18-34 supported the practice while only 47 percent of those aged 65 or older did the same.

A majority of respondents (58 percent) were also willing to have their own child earn some high school credits online, while 33 percent would not want their children to earn any credits online. But only 8 percent of respondents would be willing to have their child earn all of their high school credits online.

“Most Virginians are supportive of online learning as an option during a student’s high school career,” said Robyn McDougle, Ph.D., interim executive director at the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute and associate professor at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “But a vast majority of respondents also clearly want their own children to have in-person instruction and face-to-face interaction during their high school experience.”

A year after Virginia policymakers acted to reduce the number of standardized tests, the public continues to register a blend of support and concern about the impacts that Standards of Learning have on the state’s education system.

Majorities of respondents saw the SOLs as a positive in promoting accountability and equity across educational institutions. Fifty-eight percent saw a benefit in accountability, with the SOLs holding schools accountable for student achievement. Only 37 percent disagreed. A slightly smaller majority, 54 percent, saw an equity benefit, indicating that the SOLs make sure that all students in Virginia meet the same academic standards. Minority respondents were more likely to agree that SOLs hold schools accountable (69 percent) and ensure that all students meet the same standards (60 percent) when compared to whites, where only 54 percent and 50 percent agreed with the same respective statements.

But while respondents overall agreed SOLs create accountability for schools with regards to student performance, a majority of Virginians (58 percent) feel that SOLs don’t help improve student achievement itself. Likewise, more respondents (38 percent) indicated that increased testing has hurt student performance than that it has helped (21 percent). Almost a third of respondents (32 percent) indicated it made no difference one way or the other when it comes to student performance.

There is also a clear sense from the public that SOLs create negative impacts on the classroom experience and for the individual student. More than three-quarters of Virginians (79 percent) agreed that preparations for SOL testing take so much class time that teachers can’t cover all the important material. A strong majority (66 percent) agreed that SOL tests are putting too much pressure on students.

“The public has a complex view of the SOLs, standardized testing and accountability standards,” McDougle said. “They appear to like the accountability it provides for measuring whether the adults in a school system are doing their jobs well, but they are concerned about the impact it has on kids and classrooms. When it gets down to the level of the impact on an individual student, most question if the system is helping. If policymakers look for ways to reduce the stress of high-stakes testing but keep the ability to compare performance across school systems and leverage that for improved performance, they are likely to find support from the broader public.”

Within opinion about the impact of SOLs and testing on student performance or achievement, significant differences exist between several demographic groups. In comparing minority and white perspectives, minorities are more likely to say that testing has helped (31 percent compared to 17 percent of whites). Likewise, those with an education level of high school or less are more likely to say testing helped (31 percent) than are those with some college (19 percent) or a college diploma (14 percent). Finally, those with household incomes lower than $50,000 are more likely to say testing has helped (30 percent) than is the case with the two higher income categories ($50,000-$100,000 – 18 percent; $100,000 or more – 15 percent).

Another frequently debated policy area is whether schools that consistently fail to meet standards should be taken over by another entity. The poll found for the second year that a majority of Virginians (57 percent) opposed the idea of school takeovers. There was significant variability, however, between different geographic regions. The west (78 percent) and northwest (66 percent) regions are most likely to oppose the takeover of failing schools by another entity. In contrast, south central (48 percent oppose) and Northern Virginia regions (47 percent oppose) are almost evenly split on the question.

In other findings on potential innovations in high school education, a substantial majority of Virginians (68 percent) agreed either strongly or somewhat, that public high school students should be required to participate in at least one internship (whether paid or volunteer) during high school. Agreement is higher than the overall average among minorities (78 percent), those who have worked in schools (76 percent) and Democrats (77 percent). Results regarding internships were previously released in the Jan. 15 section of the poll.

The Commonwealth Education Poll was conducted by landline and cell telephone from Dec. 27, 2014, to Jan. 3, 2015, with a random sample of 806 adults in Virginia. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

For a PDF of the 28-page report including complete question wording and detailed tables of results see http://cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/.



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