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January 6, 2013

Test scores lag in Mass.'virtual' high school

Students at a privately operated online school that is costing Massachusetts taxpayers almost $2.5 million a year are falling far behind other students in the state, based on their assessment-test scores, and half of them are quitting during the academic year or failing to return the next year.

State and local records reviewed by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting show that the Massachusetts Virtual Academy, or MAVA, ranked second lowest statewide in its students’ progress in math and English based on a measure called the student growth percentile, which compares a given student’s MCAS scores over time with those of similar students.

Twenty-five percent dropped out last year, and, each fall, another 20 to 30 percent do not come back.

The results come at a time when legislators are considering allowing up to 10 online schools to operate across the state. The schools could enroll as many as 19,000 students.

A spin-off of the Greenfield Public Schools, MAVA accepts students from 148 other Massachusetts school districts including Lawrence, Lowell, Attleboro, Worcester, Boston, Fall River, Springfield, New Bedford and districts on Cape Cod.

Merrimack Valley districts with students enrolled in MAVA this school year include Methuen (8 students), Lawrence (5), Haverhill (4), Pentucket (2) and Amesbury (1).

The districts pay Greenfield $5,000 per year, per student. Greenfield, in turn, contracts with a Virginia-based company called K12 to provide instruction and other services.

The actual MCAS math scores for students at MAVA, now in its third year of operation, are lower than those of all but four other schools or districts, including a charter school for the arts in Gloucester and a charter school in Springfield that is on academic probation.

Thirty percent of the MAVA students received the lowest rating of “warning/failing” on the MCAS in math and 20 percent in science — double and almost double the state average.

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