A Closer Look at the Academic Success of a Blended School


Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 9:00am

Recently, Poudre School District Global Academy (PSD Global), a blended school in Fort Collins, Colorado, announced that it had ranked among the highest in the state of Colorado for student growth across all grades for the 2013-2014 school year.  This achievement marks the first time an innovative school using blended and online learning has ranked in the top 95 percent of all Colorado schools – including traditional brick and mortar schools, charter schools, and other online schools.

Project Tomorrow wanted to take a closer look to find out why this innovative blended school achieved this level of academic success.  In an in-depth case study titled, “Online, Virtual and Blended Learning in Action: Case Study – Poudre School District Global Academy,” Project Tomorrow examines student proficiency, student growth data, and teacher effectiveness to demonstrate the impact that blended learning has had at PSD Global.

When looking at student proficiency, the study outlines key student outcomes on the state standardized tests. PSD Global teachers highlighted four key student outcomes that they attribute to the students’ blended learning experiences:

  •   apply their knowledge to practical problems;
  •   develop critical thinking and problem solving skills;  
  •   take greater ownership of their learning; and
  •   develop a growth mindset where failure is an opportunity to learn.

The Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) in Science and Social Studies were both used for assessment to gauge student proficiency. On the MAP assessment, in both Reading and Math, PSD Global students exceeded national proficiency for the spring test in all grades tested, grades 2 thru 8. Congruently, on the CMAS assessment, the percentage of PSD Global students, in all subject areas across the grades tested, who scored ‘strong and/or distinguished’ exceeded both district and Colorado state averages.

Second, Project Tomorrow gauges student growth data. Despite this being a relatively new metric for some states, PSD Global’s Principal Heather Hiebsch thinks that the measure of school success is directly related to student growth data. At PSD Global, students are expected to achieve one year’s worth of growth from where they began the school year. For the study, facilitators utilized Colorado’s Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) to assess student-growth-data. PSD Global outranked every school in student growth during the 2013-2014 school year.

PSD Global believes that effective teachers are paramount, especially in a blended learning environment.  To examine teacher effectiveness, study facilitators asked PSD educators how blended learning contributed to their overall effectiveness. Some of the top answers received from teachers include:

  •   I am facilitating more student centered learning.
  •   I am facilitating more student collaboration learning experiences.
  •   I am able to give my students more personalized attention.
  •   I have more time to differentiate my instructional plans.

Most importantly, when looking into PSD Global in greater depth, Project Tomorrow was able to glean that for a truly successful blended learning environment it all matters: student proficiency, student growth data, and effective teachers.

When talking to Principal Hiebsch about utilizing digital tools and resources she said, the “magic bullet” for PSD Global has been a balanced combination of quality content, well-aligned digital tools, and truly customizable resources.

To read Project Tomorrow’s full case study, click here.


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