Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated.

School/organization overview

Name Riverside Virtual School
Type District School: Alternative
Locale Urban
Headquarters Riverside, California
First year of operation SY2005-06
Grades served PreK-12
% FRL 61.1% (Riverside Unified School District, SY2009-10)
% Black or Hispanic 60% (Riverside Unified School District, SY2009-10)
Revenue per pupil $8,254 (Riverside Unified School District, SY2009-10)

Blended-learning program

Name N/A
Focus General
Year launched SY2005-06
Outside investments/grants $325,000
Enrollment 3,661 course enrollments (SY2009-10)
Blended grades
Blended subjects
Math, English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science, Electives
Content Varies, District-developed
SIS Aeries SIS
Independent LMS Blackboard
Independent gradebook Blackboard
Independent assessment  Blackboard
Professional development None

Program model

Program model: Enriched Virtual

Model description
While completing online courses remotely, students are required to connect with teachers throughout the week through email, videoconferencing, or face-to-face office hours at the “Educational Options Center”. Many courses require face-to-face meetings, such as science courses that require wet labs.

Program background

History and context
To stave off the growing trend of students leaving its program to take courses at various online school programs, Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) decided in 2005 to explore options for creating its own online initiative. District officials benchmarked models in Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and Idaho, and pilot tested an Aventa Learning AP Statistics course and AP American Government course. The pilot test enrolled 36 students in the 2005–06 school years.

By the fall of 2007, Riverside Virtual School (RVS) opened its doors to 585 students. The program delivered 1,551 course enrollments in 2008–09 and 3,661 in 2009–10. Although approximately 10 percent of students enrolled at Riverside Virtual School full time, the majority used the online school to supplement their course selection. At the same time, full-time RVS students had the option to enroll at a comprehensive high school for one or more classes—or for extracurricular activities—in a face-to-face environment.

Blended model
RVS purchased content from Aventa Learning and several other providers, and then broke the courses into learning modules and reconfigured them to meet the California standards and Riverside’s traditional-classroom pacing guide. RUSD chose its digital content providers specifically from those that grant access to the course content at a modular level and permission to modify, replace, and enhance content. This policy provided RUSD the opportunity to build an online program that was an extension of the instructional program of the district, as opposed to implementing separate and distinct online curricula. Generally, each course incorporated video, audio, multimedia, and text features to meet students’ various learning preferences.

Students taking RVS courses today interface with RVS’s full-time staff of instructional supervisors via email, video conferencing, and drop-in office hours at the physical campus, called the Educational Options Center. Students are required to connect with teachers throughout the week, although they can fulfill this through email or videoconferencing. Many courses require face-to-face meetings, such as science courses that require wet labs, as well as courses such as physical education, art, music, and foreign languages. Overall, teachers say that they interact more with students as online teachers than when they are teaching a face-to-face course. Students also report having higher levels of engagement with their online teachers than they do in the face-to-face environment.

Curriculum mirrors the pacing guides and incorporates the district-adopted materials and assessments used in Riverside Unified’s traditional classrooms. This policy allows students to comply with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and University of California regulations related to online learning. In cases where those regulations have no impact, students are encouraged to design learning programs that best meet their individual needs. For example, the health course is not subject to NCAA or University of California review, and thus it offers an open enrollment, self-paced schedule.

Blackboard manages short-cycle assessments, but students must come in to the Educational Options Center for the five to eight proctored unit exams for each course. Students must pass the mid-term and final exam and, in some courses, attend wet lab activities to receive a passing grade.

Notable results
RVS collects robust data for its full-time students, and this data shows that these students on average have the highest high school scores in the district based on California’s Academic Proficiency Index (API). For the remaining 90 percent of students who take RVS courses to supplement their traditional courses, the district has had difficulty parsing the data to determine how a one-off RVS course or two affects a student’s comprehensive state assessment results. Based on anecdotal evidence, however, hundreds of students are able to access higher-level subjects and/or achieve credit-recovery objectives, thanks to newfound online accessibility through RVS.

Because of the concurrent enrollment emphasis, the district has not viewed RVS as a money generator at this point. The district does not get a percentage of average-daily-attendance allocat-ions from Riverside students who take courses though RVS. It does, however, get a payment from other districts when outside students take RVS courses and receives state funding for students enrolled in the program full time. Also, the district realizes savings from the elimination of paper textbooks and other printing costs; the transition of professional development online; students completing the online health class in a third of the time as in a traditional class; and moving small-enrollment courses online.

On the horizon
David Haglund and Jay McPhail, director of education options and director of instructional technology and career technical education respectively for RUSD, cite two concerns with California policies that regulate K–12 online programs. First, California’s funding regime for online courses dates back to 1950s correspondence-course regulation. The law stipulates that the state pays providers based on the number of hours of work that a student submits and requires that paper records be kept to demonstrate the allocation of hours to student work samples. RVS must employ double the clerical support to ensure compliance with this archaic attendance law, which minimizes any savings realized from the online strategy.

Second, Haglund and McPhail state that California imposes onerous geographic restrictions. Riverside Unified can only educate students from counties that share at least one of its geographic borders. Thus Riverside Unified cannot serve Los Angeles County students because a narrow strip of San Bernadino County prevents the other two counties from sharing a border. This law also prevents the district from serving students in other countries. The district could potentially skirt these regulations if it were to charter, but it has resisted this option in a desire to encourage systemic reform in the state and the adoption of law and policy that support 21st-century school design.

In terms of technology, Haglund and McPhail say that a top need is an adaptive platform that uses artificial intelligence software to customize and deliver a personalized learning experience for each student.


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