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Nov. 24, 2020– Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i Board has asked Acellus CEO and the HI DOE for Answers

Roger Billings, CEO of Acellus, made a video statement over a week ago, asserting that the HI DOE could lose $272million by dropping the Acellus program in May.  You can watch his video here.

Roger Billings made a video describing the HI DOE/Acellus relationship, minimizing Hawaii parent and DOE criticisms of the Acellus curriculum. Watch that video here.

We question some of his assumptions and projections and we would like information on the lessons that have been changed as a result of Hawai‘i parent, teacher, and DOE criticisms. We have asked for transcripts or links to the lessons, before and after the fixes. Our letter to Acellus is below. We have also written to the HI DOE seeking answers from them. We will share responses from both sources when we receive them.

 

Nov. 10, 2020 — Acellus will be discontinued by the end of the school year in May, 2021

Following complaints and concerns from families and teachers, the Hawai‘i Board of Education voted on Oct. 15 to discontinue use of the Acellus program.

A comprehensive review of the Acellus Accelerator program  was published yesterday, Nov 9.

An earlier shorter HI DOE Acellus review was published in October.

Review Team Findings:
1. Evidence confirming concerns submitted by stakeholders.
2. Evidence of conflict with BOE policies addressing academic program, standards, curriculum, discrimination and religion.
3. Evidence of misalignment to Hawaii Core Standards and grade-level expectations.

Here  is a link to a Civil Beat article published today, Nov. 9, noting some of the problems and summarizing the $2.8 expense since April.

Here is a link to the Oct. 13th EdWeek article on Hawai‘i’s issues with the Acellus program and the Superintendent’s announcement re discontinuance.

Please email us if you have responses to the Acellus program.
info@ppshi.org

From the Superintendent’s Memo:

Transition Plan: The HIDOE Office of Curriculum and Instructional Design (OCID) is designing a transition plan for Acellus users with timelines and scenario planning to address technical and adaptive needs. Content specialists will investigate replacement solutions. OCID will continue to work with complex area distance learning teams to assist with implementation to:

1) Full distance learning with current school curriculum;
2) Replace Acellus with menu of choices, which can be assigned via a Learning Management System such as Google Classroom and Blackboard; and
3) Explore the availability and viability of on line self-paced programs for specific purposes.

Highlights:
Page 13 – Conclusion and Findings
The review has affirmed concerns that are in conflict with BOE policies raised by public education stakeholders, as well as the initial cursory review completed by the OC/0 content specialists in May 2020. The concerns related to Acellus content conflicted with BOE policies addressing academic program, standards, curriculum, discrimination, and religion. According to BOE Policy 105-3 Curriculum: “All elementary (grades K-5) and secondary schools (middle/intermediate and high) shall offer a program of studies – or curriculum – that enables all students to attain, to the highest degree possible, the applicable statewide content and performance standards as adopted by the Board.” At least 50% of the reviews conducted by the review panel explicitly stated a misalignment to the Hawai’i Content[&] Performance Standards.

Pages 13-14 – OSIP assessment specialists analysis recap
“At various points, the situations/scenarios are above grade level, while the expectations are aligned to below grade-level standards if aligned to grade level at all …

” The Hf DOE realizes that students will be participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) this spring, and the additional considerations for this implication does create further uncertainty with the differences in the distance learning models and curriculum.”

Here are some FAQs from the HI DOE website:

Q: How does a parent report questionable material on Acellus?
A: There are many schools currently using various online curriculum and instructional materials to support distance learning during this unprecedented time. Anyone who comes across concerning content assigned by an HIDOE teacher should report the specific location and details of such content immediately using this form. Content pulled from general web searches will not be reviewed. Access the HIDOE Controversial Content Concern Form: https://bit.ly/2GgNWt7

Q: How does a parent provide the Hawai‘i State Department of Education feedback on how to improve online learning?
A: As we conclude our first few weeks of distance learning, the Department is requesting feedback on your experience. This will help to inform the Department on how to improve our virtual classes.
Access the Online Content Feedback Form: http://bit.ly/3BX8WxR 

Q: How does a parent disenroll their child from the Acellus program?
A: Parents who have concerns about the Acellus program should contact their school to discuss program options.

Q: How was Acellus selected as a potential provider of online curriculum for this school year
A: In May, the Department reviewed Acellus Learning Accelerator instructional materials and considered the Acellus Academy’s WASC accreditation, NCAA and College Board endorsements. The Acellus Learning Accelerator platform offers over 300 courses, K-12, in every core content area and distance learning instructional materials align to national standards.

The Acellus Learning Accelerator program was used this past summer by the Department for credit recovery and many schools utilized this as a tool to support their summer distance learning option. HIDOE has secured a data-sharing agreement to ensure the platform meets requirements to safely house student information.

Q: Are Acellus Learning Accelerator and Acellus Academy the same?
A: The Acellus Learning Accelerator is not to be confused with Acellus Academy. Acellus Academy is an online high school that is not associated with HIDOE classes. The Acellus Academy is WASC accredited and uses Acellus Learning Accelerator courses as their curriculum. With Acellus, HIDOE teachers still make instructional decisions and lesson planning.

Q: Is Acellus Learning Accelerator accredited?
A: No. Acellus Learning Accelerator is the curriculum used by Acellus Academy, which is WASC accredited. Curriculum and academic materials, like the Acellus Learning Accelerator, on their own cannot be accredited but the institutions that they are utilized by can be accredited. Institutions gain accreditation based in part through a curriculum review.

Q: Are all schools required to utilize Acellus for distance learning?
A: Programs used for distance learning continue to be managed and approved at the school level. As schools continue to plan while the pandemic situation continues to evolve, principals may adjust and modify distance learning plans based on the needs and feedback of their school community.

Q: How many schools utilize Acellus Learning Accelerator?
A: As of August 24, 2020, 185 public and public charter schools purchased Acellus Learning Accelerator licenses for 78,670 students. Of the 185 schools, 112 are elementary schools with 46,150 licenses; 58 are secondary schools with 29,132 licenses, and 15 are schools with a combination of elementary and secondary grade levels with 3,388 licenses.

Q: Why are schools utilizing Acellus?
A: Many schools have chosen to utilize Acellus for distance learning because of its ease of integration and because of the positive feedback received from other HIDOE schools and teachers with first-hand experience in using the program.

Through the Acellus Prism Diagnostics®, specific deficiencies in students’ understanding of core concepts are identified and instruction is customized with personal instructional videos for that precise deficit. It has been utilized effectively in fully self-contained classes all the way up to AP classes. As we move forward, teachers will be receiving more professional development on distance learning, and the Department is working on fully developing a long-term, statewide digital learning environment for future use.

Q: What other vendors can schools use to provide online curriculum/instructional materials?
A: Video-based learning platforms such as Acellus Learning Accelerator, Edgenuity and Edmentum are being accessed by HIDOE schools to support their online distance learning needs. Some elementary schools are piloting content from Arizona State University Prep Digital and Florida Virtual Schools content is also being used by the Department’s Hawaii Virtual Learning E-School Program and by some secondary schools.

Q: What support will be provided to students opting for full distance learning for the academic calendar if their school has chosen Acellus as their distance learning platform?
A: Much like a textbook, the Acellus Learning Accelerator is used as a tool. Teachers can choose which content to assign, using only what is applicable and appropriate to their class.  Each Acellus course has a HIDOE teacher of record to oversee the progress of each student and provide additional support as needed to ensure a quality learning experience for all learners.

Q: Is the Department aware of the recent concerns circulating on social media, regarding the content of the curriculum provided by Acellus as well as it’s founder?
A: The Department has been using Acellus for the last 10 years and did not receive any complaints until a recent social media campaign.

We take all parent concerns seriously and out of an abundance of caution, the Department has been working to identify any questionable content and will work directly with the vendor to address any content deemed inappropriate. So far, the Department has been unable to confirm these screenshots and instructional videos are actually a part of today’s Acellus course materials. As with any distance learning program, teachers at the school level are also reviewing content before they are assigned, similarly to how textbooks are used for instruction.

The Department has also reached out to Acellus regarding the recent concerns and they have provided this response:

“The claims have been tied to a competitor and have not been substantiated, therefore we are unable to speculate. Similar allegations by an affiliate of this competitor were recently withdrawn after litigation.”

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