PLATO's Application for the Maine Online Learning Program
1. The online learning provider must be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices and operations.
Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. URLs linking to supporting evidence are also acceptable.
PLATO is an equal employment opportunity employer and is committed to the fair and equal treatment of all employees. PLATO does not discriminate in employment opportunities or practices on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, disability, veterans or citizenship status or any other characteristic protected by applicable federal, state or local laws. All of PLATO’s employment decisions are based solely on job-related requirements and in support of its commitment to equal employment opportunity. PLATO ensures that all conditions and privileges of employment including recruitment, hiring, placement, promotions, demotions, transfers, compensation, benefits, layoffs, recall from layoff, training and development, education, tuition assistance, and social and recreational programs are administered without regard to an applicant’s or employee’s legally-protected status or characteristics. The successful attainment of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action requires the maximum cooperation of all employees. Although PLATO’s managers and supervisors are primarily responsible for seeing that this policy and all of PLATO’s EEO-related policies are implemented, all of PLATO’s employees share the responsibility for assuring that their actions comply with these policies.
2. Each course offered for a unit of credit must correlate with applicable state-adopted academic standards prior to being offered. All courses must include assessments.
Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. Provide an example of a correlation report that demonstrates how a course offered by your organization aligns with state standards. Upon request, within 5 business days an approved Online Learning Provider must be prepared to provide either the Department, or the school administrative unit, a correlation report for any online course being offered.
The Correlation of PLATO® Curricula to Maine Learning Results English Language Arts July 12, 2012 INTRODUCTION PLATO Learning Inc. combines PLATO computer-assisted instruction into a flexible integrated learning system to enhance instructional effectiveness in education programs. This document identifies PLATO instructional activities that correlate to the Maine Learning Results: English Language Arts. It is recommended that instructors review the correlation in order to fine-tune the activity to fit their educational environment. Modules may be added or removed; Web sites and offline activities may also be incorporated to enhance the learning path.
3. A teacher employed by the online learning provider and providing instruction to students must hold a valid teaching certificate in each content area being taught or receive approval from the commissioner to teach the course.
Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this. Provide a list of those teachers who teach Maine students that includes: the name of the certified teacher, the content areas in which they are certified, the State in which their certification was obtained, and the expiration date of the certification. This list must be updated June 30th and December 30th of each year for which the online learning provider is listed, to reflect changes following the initial application and approval.
The Virtual Teacher is responsible for providing an educational atmosphere where learners have the opportunity to fulfill their potential and for organizing and implementing an instructional program that results in students achieving academic success in accordance with District and state policies and laws. The Virtual Teacher is a highly qualified instructional teacher responsible for the delivery of specified course content in an online, virtual environment.
ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
- Acquaint students to their coursework and communicating course and school requirements. •Employ synchronous and asynchronous tools to supplement course content.
- Maintain regular office hours to be reachable by students and parents.
- Track student progress and help students stay on pace to complete class by class end date
- Conference with parents of struggling students by phone or online
- Grade student work and enter grades into an online grade book in a timely manner. •Contribute to and complete student report cards.
- Communicate with teachers, administrators, and parents as needed.
- Respond to student messages and discussions in a timely manner within school guidelines
- Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution required.
- Three years or more of classroom teaching experience with one year of online teaching experience.
- Appropriate state teaching certification in one of the core subject areas (Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, or Science including AP Level courses) or in an elective area (Art, Health, PE, Foreign Language, Computer Ed) with experience teaching in that subject.
- Meet highly qualified teacher requirements.
- Strong content and subject matter knowledge.
- Strong written and verbal communication skills.
- Organization and time management skills.
- Proficiency in Microsoft Office and other online tools.
- Ability to maintain a flexible schedule.
- College Board qualified/approved if teaching AP courses.
4. A teacher employed by the online learning provider must receive appropriate preservice and in-service training pertaining to the organization of the online classroom, programs and courses, the technical aspects of online education, the monitoring of student assessment and other pertinent training.
Describe the pre-service and in-service training, as outlined above, that is provided to teachers in your organization.
PLATO Learning fully appreciates the benefits of and supports the need for ongoing professional development for all teachers and other staff, particularly in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and virtual environment program facilitation. PLATO has the capability to provide the professional development our teachers will need. Professional development opportunities will be a combination of PLATO’s best practices and training along with required follow up professional development for all teachers. Professional development will begin with prerequisite asynchronous activities that include a series of three tutorials, and review of the Online Training Guide that details PLATO Virtual Academy Policies and process. The responsibilities of the teachers are communicated through the online training guide and with the support of PLATO Virtual Academy Program Managers. PLATO professional development will begin with PVA Teacher Training (3 hours synchronous) PVA Teacher Training is designed to prepare teachers for instruction on day 1 when students are enrolled in the courses they will support. Virtual teachers undergo synchronous PVA Teacher Training that is based on an effective model developed for virtual academies and customized to meet the needs and goals of the program.
The program’s PVA Teacher Training will include coverage of the following topics:
- Role and Responsibility of the Virtual Teacher
- Role of the Site Coordinator
- PLATO Curriculum and Course Design
- Student information System and learning Management system functionality
- Communication in a Virtual Setting
- Student Progress Monitoring
- Course Management
- Course Completion Process
- Support Guides and Resources
At the end of the PVA Teacher Training each teacher is assigned a lead teacher as a mentor to help support them as they transition to teaching in the virtual environment. The lead teacher is a partner and liaison to the teacher for questions and best practice in support to the online student and to address questions related to curriculum and the virtual facilitation process. Ongoing Professional Development: PVA Teachers enjoy the benefit of Follow Up synchronous training sessions which provide the opportunity for program managers and lead teachers to share best practices. Topics covered include, course completions, technology, instructional strategies, and content. The flexibility of virtual teaching allows the PVA teacher to participate in Professional development offered through the PLATO Training and Readiness team. PVA teachers will be sent the schedule of available PD sessions each month.
5. The online learning provider must verify ongoing student attendance and progress and performance in each course as documented by ongoing assessments in a proctored environment and provide examples of student course work.
Describe how attendance, progress and performance are assessed, and also the level to which assessments are typically proctored online and/or locally.
Students are required to complete a minimum of 1 assignment each week; should a student not meet this minimum attendance requirement, the online teacher sends a “lack of progress” email to the student, parent/Site Facilitator. If after 2 weeks the student still has not met the minimum attendance requirement, the student is referred to administration. Administration emails the student, parent/Site Facilitator, thus giving the student 1 week to resume working. Should the student not resume working, the student is withdrawn from the course (with the chance to re-enroll after speaking with the student/parent/Site Facilitator). When a student is struggling in a course, the teacher sends an email to the student, parent/Site Facilitator, offering help. Parents/Site Facilitators are also notified when grades are low.
Proctoring- Students are required to have all tests (initial assessments, mid-term and final exams) proctored by a non-relative who is at least 21 years of age. The proctor is required to complete and return a proctor information form to administration. When the student is ready to take a test, the proctor calls our office to have the exam released. All tests are taken locally and at a mutually agreed upon location between the proctor, student and parent.
6. Administrators, teachers and other educational staff employed by the online learning provider must comply with the fingerprinting and national criminal history record check requirements as set forth in section 6103.
Provide evidence of the protocol your organization uses to meet national criminal history record checks. Demonstrate how your organization meets this requirement and provide documentation that confirms this.
PLATO believes that hiring qualified individuals to fill positions contributes to the overall strategic success of the company. Background checks serve as an important part of the selection process. This type of information is collected as a means of promoting a safe work environment for current and future PLATO employees. Background checks also provide additional applicant related information that helps determine the applicant's overall employability, ensuring the protection of the current people, property, and information of the organization. In certain situations PLATO may require an employee to complete an additional form of background check, such as fingerprinting, as a condition of employment in order to meet the criteria necessary to service our customers.
The following is intended as a summary of PLATO’s Guidance on Background Checks. State law may impose restrictions on background checks or require additional background check measures to do business with our clients. If the following conflicts with state law wherein PLATO conducts business, PLATO will comply with that applicable state law. In addition, all contents within this guidance are in accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. 25
PLATO will conduct criminal background checks On all applicants that are in serious consideration for employment with PLATO. This includes applicants for regular and casual temporary positions.
Timing of conducting criminal background checks Whenever possible, PLATO Human Resources will conduct background checks on a pre-hire basis. All offers are contingent upon a background check being completed and meeting company hiring requirements. Employment with PLATO can not begin until a background check has been completed.
Prerequisite for running criminal background checks Human Resources will obtain an authorization form from the candidate as required under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under no circumstances will a criminal background check be conducted until Human Resources have received authorization from the candidate.
7. The online learning program must comply with the State's information technology accessibility policies and standards. Maine’s information technology accessibility policies and standards can be found here:
a. Web accessibility
b. Software accessibility
Describe how your organization complies with these standards and/or provide a copy of the organization’s policy document that demonstrates evidence of this.
PLATO Learning’s commitment to our mission statement— Inspired solutions for teaching and learning—requires us to build a wide variety of accommodations into all of our products to serve the needs of learners and educators with disabilities. While we know there is more to do before our products can be considered fully accessible to all, we are taking concrete steps to work towards the goal of Section 508 compliance, including:
- the creation of the first PLATO Learning Accessibility Task Force in 2003 which laid out in detail the steps the Company will take to ensure accessibility in all new development projects, and
- testing on our current products to assess the state of their accessibility.
The balance of this document will discuss the results of these tests and provide some guidance as to the directions future products are likely to take.
Language and Cognitive Accommodations
This category includes users with general processing difficulties such as mental retardation and brain injuries, those with specific deficits such as short-term memory problems, language delays, and learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and cognitive disorganization. Obviously, this is an exceptionally diverse group of needs. Fortunately, in most cases the best way to accommodate these users is by following well-established, research-proven instructional and user interface design standards. Further, the individualized, self-paced, multimedia nature of computer-enhanced instruction offers inherent advantages when it comes to accommodating these learners.
Since PLATO Learning has long been a leader in following rigorous instructional design standards, our instructional products are expected to work well with individual learners possessing language and cognitive disabilities.
The design standards that make PLATO Learning’s products ideal for learners with language and cognitive disabilities include:
- Instructional chunking is carefully controlled so learners are not overwhelmed with information.
- Graphics are used to support instruction, not to distract from it.
- Interactions are used to keep learners involved in the learning process.
- Learners receive immediate, informative feedback for all study, practice, and application questions.
- Transitions are used to cue users about what will happen next.
- Audio supports and reinforces instructional text (although, not available on every product, audio is available on the majority of our product line).
- Instructions are clear and concise, written by dedicated instructional writers, and edited by professional editors.
- Connections are routinely made to previously studied materials.
- Flexible strategies are routinely taught over strictly procedural methods.
- Learners retain control over pacing and review of instructional sequences.
At this time, we are evaluating support for third-party typing assistive technologies. Further research is planned for evaluating ways to enhance support for dyslexic users. Ultimately, however, its self-paced nature, clean screen layouts, and carefully designed and written instruction make PLATO Learning products ideal for users requiring language and cognitive accommodations.
Visual acuity problems are divided into three categories: blindness, colorblindness, and low visual acuity. As with competitors’ product of the same interactive nature, our products are usable to totally blind users; however usage would require the help of a sighted assistant. Our products do show positive results in supporting colorblind users. For years our products have gone through grayscale testing to verify proper contrasts for even monochromatic users. Recently, our colorblindness testing has expanded to include the use of sophisticated electronic filters that simulate various types of colorblindness. Further, color coding is only used as a redundant interface cue, preventing it from becoming a barrier to learning or teaching. We will continue testing and evaluating the support provided for users with low visual acuity. Many of our programs include audio support for instructional text, reducing or eliminating the need for these users to read on-screen text. Our programs rarely if ever have multiple, time sensitive points of the screen far apart from each other competing for a learner’s attention, allowing learners with tunnel vision or related problems to concentrate on isolated parts of the screen at once. Our courseware has proven to be comfortable for use by learners with low visual acuity but who do not require screen readers or screen magnifiers, and who are able to use a mouse or equivalent device.
PLATO Learning is committed to continuing our efforts towards providing proper support for screen readers and screen magnifiers, which will increase accessibility for learners and teachers with visual impairments. Screen magnifiers have shown to work successfully in the PLATO® courseware when following mouse movements and magnifying elements, and we are continuing to test and improve on the scaling of text using these tools. Most of the products in the PLATO Learning library require a mouse or equivalent device and cannot be run exclusively from a keyboard. Thus, learners who require screen readers, screen magnifiers, or who can only use a keyboard and not a mouse could experience some difficulty with portions of our courseware library.
Compatibility with one or more major screen readers is a top priority of our Accessibility Task Force, as is keyboard equivalents for mouse functions. Full screen-magnifier support is also a priority, and we are looking into providing equivalent functionality within the courseware if we cannot find a way to fully support existing magnifiers.
Because auditory disabilities are a matter of degree, these are generally dealt with at the hardware level. For users with total hearing loss, the vast majority of PLATO Learning products provide on-screen text backup for instructionally significant audio (notable exceptions include PLATO® Essential, Fundamental, and Intermediate Reading Strategies, which do not support deaf learners).
Although physical disabilities can interfere with a user’s ability to manipulate an interface, most disabilities are dealt with at the hardware level with alternative keyboards and mice. As noted above, much of our courseware library requires the use of a mouse or equivalent device. However, users whose physical disabilities could interfere with quickly making responses will find that our courseware never places time constraints on entering an answer except in the very rare circumstances where such timing is an instructional necessity, creating a more accessible environment for them to learn. Further, early testing indicates good compatibility with OS-level accommodations such as StickyKeys, SlowKeys, and Key Repeating.
PLATO Learning courseware provides many built-in advantages when it comes to helping learners with disabilities. Our activities are self-paced, allowing learners to take the time they need and review as often as they like. Every screen is carefully designed for clarity and focus. All instructional sequences are professionally designed, written, and edited for clarity. Audio support provides advantages to all learners. Finally, many, many learners find the opportunity to use individualized, computer-based instruction extremely motivating; to the point that even if support for their disability is imperfect they develop viable compensation strategies in order to keep using it. We encourage instructors with concerns about the viability of using our courseware with certain populations to try courseware samples with those groups—they are likely to be surprised by the positive results.