Academy Online High School

An online high school uses data to help visualize each student’s journey


Academy Online High School (AOHS) is the virtual learning community offered through Academy School District 20.  Developed to support kids who need more flexibility in their schedules, AOHS has a clear mandate to ensure students in the state of Colorado are equipped to succeed as they pursue higher education and enter the workforce.


Every Student Has Unique Needs

The team at AOHS strongly believe that you can’t help students move forward until you know what’s holding them back.  To that end, they wanted to learn more about individual challenges—but their incumbent platform wasn’t helping.  “We wanted a tool that could not only effectively visualize a learner’s progress against our state and national standards but also quickly identify learners who may be at risk of not accomplishing defined learning goals as early as possible,” says Rick Tanski of Academy District 20.

Useful Information Must be Shared

The information AOHS was looking to report on had to be timely and easy to communicate: “We needed the ability to deliver constructive feedback in a more meaningful and impactful manner—and not just to students, but to parents and teachers as well,” says Tanski.


Advancing Online Education

AOHS became one of the first K–12 schools in the world to discover the benefits of the Brightspace Student Success System™.  The product works by using data already in the Brightspace platform to create a rich visualization of each student’s progress using simple, colorful graphs.  Tanski explains, “The product allows us to understand very quickly and easily where students are and where they may be going. It allows us to take impersonal data and translate it into meaningful communication points so we can connect with students on a deeper level in their learning.”

The Help They Need before They Need it

The tool also helps teachers make predictions.  They can trend overall learner performance and plan for any remediation efforts before students even know they need help.  “We use the data to inform instruction at the moment of learning,” says Tanski.  In other words, a teacher knows where a student might struggle and can address the issue while teaching to avoid the usual disappointing results.

Encouraging Improvements in Teaching

In the standards-based system used by AOHS, teachers are evaluated based on student growth and achievement.  Using the Brightspace Student Success System, they can see how students are progressing, which gives them a measure of their own performance.  “Effective teachers want to improve through increased student learning,” says Tanski.

“In a traditional classroom, if teachers have 150, 160, 180 kids, they can’t individualize their instruction or make mid-course corrections and they can’t remediate in advance.  But you can do that in a technology-mediated environment—it’s what we do with the Brightspace platform.”
Rick Tanski, Academy School District 20


Transforming Education One Student at a Time

What’s happening at AOHS goes deeper than good grades. “Our teachers are leaving their usual practices behind and taking a more individualistic approach to progress and achievement,” says Tanski.  For students, it’s a matter of learning how to learn. He explains, “While students are excited and intrigued by the product, the ultimate goal in using Brightspace is to drive a new dialogue with them, one that’s founded on continuous progress.  They begin to think, ‘here are my learning goals, here’s how I can track progress to meet those goals, and here’s how I am progressing on a day-by-day basis.’”

More Graduations and Better Grades

While AOHS is finding success in untraditional ways, their results can be measured using traditional methods. The school has been tracking the percentage of total grades each semester for the past five years. Tanski says, “More kids are passing with Cs or higher and fewer kids are in the D to F range. From 2013 to 2014 we’ve reduced our failure rate by 36%.”  In some cases, AOHS students are even surpassing their bricks-and-mortar cohorts. Tanski explains: “when we compare ourselves district-wide, specifically in grades nine and ten math, we have generally scored about ten percentage points higher on a three-year rolling average.”