In Idaho, as in other rural states, there are multiple barriers to providing high-quality or specialized Career Technical Education (CTE) equally across the state. Students frequently have to travel to reach these programs, and local districts with small student populations often do not have the resources, or even the demand, to justify costly CTE programs. To address the challenge and expand access to CTE and advanced coursework more generally, the Idaho legislature in 2015 authorized Idaho Career & Technical Education to work with the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), a fully-accredited online school serving students in all of the state’s 115 districts, to develop CTE Digital. Through IDLA, Idaho students all over the state can access online CTE coursework.
Overview of the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and CTE Digital
The Idaho Digital Learning Academy was authorized by state statute in 2002 to “provide choice, accessibility, flexibility, quality and equity in curricular offerings.” While students across the state are eligible to enroll, IDLA operates as an independent school rather than a state department or agency. The partnership for CTE Digital has resulted in six CTE-specific courses in the Information Technology and Health Science Career Clusters® to date. Plans are to develop full CTE pathways, when possible, rather than individual courses so that students in rural communities have access to quality CTE programs.
CTE Digital courses are developed collaboratively between IDLA and a CTE subject matter expert. Before a course can be designated as CTE Digital, a CTE certified teacher maps content to CTE standards and develops new content to meet the standards, as needed for existing courses/curriculum. For a new course development, a CTE certified teacher is hired by IDLA to create the course, which typically happens while they are teaching the same course in their district. In both cases, the state-level CTE program manager signs off on the course before it can be offered through CTE Digital. On an ongoing basis, IDLA is required to use CTE certified teachers to deliver the courses.
In addition to these CTE courses, students can access a wide catalog of subjects ranging from foreign language to social studies. This also includes dual credit opportunities such as Advanced Placement courses, which are not always available in a student’s home school. Enrollment costs just $75 per course (an expense that is often covered by the student’s school), and each course available through IDLA is both aligned with Idaho Core Content Standards and facilitated by a certified teacher, ensuring that quality is not the price of access.
Further, IDLA is designed to build upon and enhance rather than detract from a student’s traditional secondary education. School districts receive the same per-pupil funding for students enrolled IDLA as in a live-taught class. And when a student completes an IDLA course, either through CTE Digital or otherwise, the grade shows up on his or her high school transcript.
Courses offered through the IDLA are designed around three models:
- Cohort Courses follow a typical 12- or 16-week schedule aligned with the academic calendar year, and allow students the flexibility to complete their lessons where or when they want.
- Flex Courses, as the name implies, are somewhat more flexible than cohort courses, allowing students to proceed at their own pace and even skip course material if they can demonstrate mastery. Flexible scheduling lets students go as fast or as slow as they need.
- Finally, Hybrid Courses combine online lessons and video lectures to create a more authentic, interactive learning experience.
In addition to the student-facing course catalog, the Digital Learning Academy has professional development content to help teachers enhance their pedagogy and instruction, ensuring teachers in even the most rural communities can access high-quality training content. Through partnerships with various state and national organizations, IDLA has developed multiple training courses for instructors, including programs related to digital learning, computer science instruction and building a college and career ready culture.
Policy in Action
The mission of the Idaho Digital Learning Academy encourages collaboration and flexibility, resulting in strong statewide partnerships and a course catalog that is responsive to the needs of students, communities and the state economy. Responding to input from government, education and industry leaders on the Idaho Technology Council, IDLA administrators recognized a need for more computer science education. As such, the Academy partnered with Code.org to provide professional development for teachers through the online platform. Computer science courses are also available to students through the course catalog.
IDLA continues to see notable enrollment gains, from slightly more than 1,000 in the 2004-05 school year to about 25,480 in 2016-2017. The CTE Digital courses have served over 1,000 students in the first two years. The platform has received numerous accolades and is recognized as one of the nation’s premier online learning systems.
- Idaho Statute: Title 33, Chapter 55: Idaho Digital Learning Academy
- Idaho Digital Learning Academy
- Idaho Digital Learning Academy Course Catalog
- Idaho Digital Learning CTE Digital Course List
- Greenbelt Magazine: Idaho Digital Learning Academy (Jan, 2017)