Just 1 in 4 students uses GOAL Academy's learning software each day.
Yet the state of Colorado officially reports an 89 percent attendance rate at the school.
Why the disconnect?
Reason No. 1 is GOAL's attendance policy: If a student completes two or more 'school-related activities' in a week (including logging in to learning software, showing up at a drop-in center, or sending a text message to a coach), he or she is considered to be in attendance for that entire week.
In other words, a student can send two text messages, and GOAL will mark him or her present for five days.
Reason No. 2: GOAL’s authorizer and the state department of education accept that information at face value, no questions asked.
It’s reflective of an 'antiquated' system, said Touro University professor Michael Barbour.
There is some momentum behind a new approach. Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Utah have shifted to counting how many courses online students complete, rather than how often they log in.
But for now, tracking online students' attendance and engagement remains a challenge, causing problems for schools, states, and cyber operators alike.
To better understand the landscape, Education Week spoke at length with representatives from Connections Education, which supports more than two dozen full-time virtual schools across the country.