MA DESE and VHS Learning STEM AP Access Expansion Opportunity - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) | VHS Learning

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MA DESE and VHS Learning STEM AP Access Expansion Opportunity - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Grant Details
Local Site Coordinator Responsibilities
VHS Learning Teacher Responsibilities
AP Coordinator Role
Questions About Courses Offered
Student Needs

Other Questions Not Answered Here?

Please contact Jennifer Gwatkin for more information.


Grant Details

This is a five-year award from the US Dept of Ed. We are currently in the "planning" year, so schools will have access to four years of course offerings via the grant.

We would like schools to opt-in with ballpark enrollment numbers by April vacation.

The grant covers any of the 7 AP courses listed (if students have scheduling conflicts, etc.); however, the intention of this grant is to complement and not compete with or supplant what is offered already by the school.

It depends. We really want to focus on courses that you currently don't teach in the building; however, we encourage you to schedule a 1:1 with Jennifer to discuss.

Yes. This grant covers the costs of AP exams, and we highly encourage students to take these end of year exams.

All lab kit fees are paid for through the grant. Students, families, and schools will not incur fees for the lab kits.

Students are in cohorts of 25 students in one online classroom, taught by a VHS Learning instructor. That classroom will contain students from schools across MA.

The grant is limited to 1500 students in the first year, across all eligible schools. Schools should request the number of enrollments for which they have demand and seats will be awarded by MA DESE on a school-by-school basis.

Enrollment is based on each school’s needs. Schools identify their expected student demand and request enrollments based on that demand.

Schools are responsible for identifying a site coordinator, who will be stipended by the grant, and an AP coordinator. Those are the two positions that are necessary. Note, the site coordinator does not have to be a teacher.

Yes – there will be a dedicated web page for information on this program, and additional information on this opportunity will be shared with to students/families. Each student will also take a student orientation so they understand expectations of the program.


Local Site Coordinators Responsibilities

Site coordinators provide student support and oversight, monitor student progress, communicate with parents and teachers, and review/report grades and progress to the local school. Site coordinators are the primary liaison between the local school and the VHS Learning program. More information about the site coordinator role can be found here: https://vhslearning.org/vhs-learning-site-coordinators

VHS Learning will provide stipends for site coordinators as part of the grant from MA DESE. Local site coordinators receive $50/student/year for each student they support. We recommend that site coordinators be given one period each day to support students taking online courses.

Site coordinators will enroll in VHS Learning Site Coordinator Orientation training program (self-paced course) and the VHS Learning team will be happy to answer any questions or provide additional assistance to schools and site coordinators.

Site coordinators will have access to monitor their students’ VHS Learning courses and will gather insights into effective online practices from this experience. In addition site coordinators receive training on how to best support students taking online courses and these practices can be utilized locally as well.

The typical VHS Learning site coordinator supports about 25 students per semester, although many site coordinators support larger numbers of students depending on the number of enrollments at their local school. VHS Learning will train additional school site coordinators at no charge, but only the primary site coordinator will receive a grant stipend.


VHS Learning Teacher Responsibilities

No, because the teachers in this program are VHS Learning teachers, not local teachers. This grant will offer training for local site coordinators along with a stipend for each student they support.

VHS Learning is supplying certified teachers. AP teachers locally are not required for this grant. This opportunity is designed to complement, not supplant, current course offerings. If you have a teacher who is interested in learning how to teach an AP course online, please contact us to discuss.

No, because local AP teachers are not required (VHS Learning provides teachers), this grant does not offer a stipend for teachers. There is, however, a stipend for the local site coordinator for each student they support.

All VHS Learning teachers will receive training on culturally responsive teaching practices. Through the grant, VHS Learning has engaged with Debbie Zaccarian and Associates (https://www.zacarianconsulting.com/) to expand training in this area.

Nonprofit VHS Learning partners with schools to provide supplemental programs for schools, and MA schools have used the program for the last 25 years. Courses are taught by certified high school teachers who typically also teach face-to-face. Currently 750 schools use the program to supplement local school offerings.

Students will be taught by a certified teacher who will be considered the teacher of record.


AP Coordinator Role

Each school must designate an AP Coordinator to organize and administer the school’s AP Program.


Questions About Courses Offered

Courses are conducted for a full academic year and are paced, not self-paced.

Links to detailed AP course descriptions and prerequisites are available on the VHS Learning website: https://vhslearning.org/advanced-placement and are listed above.

The curricula have been approved through the College Board AP Audit process to meet content and lab requirements. All VHS Learning teachers are certified high school teachers with experience teaching AP classes. Course syllabi are available here: MA DESE and VHS Learning STEM AP Access Expansion Opportunity. 

Technical requirements for participation can be found here: https://vhslearning.org/technical-requirements. Chromebooks can present challenges in certain courses where software that is downloaded must be used extensively.

Yes, for the most part. Chromebooks present challenges in courses where software that is downloaded must be used extensively. Technical requirements for participation can be found here: https://vhslearning.org/technical-requirements. Chromebooks would work for most courses, though students will need occasional access to a computer to access simulations. Please review course descriptions -- see https://vhslearning.org/stem-ap-access-expansion-opportunity#courses. Additional consultation is available as needed.

All technical requirements and course prerequisite are found within the course descriptions. Here is a link to the AP CSP course description and requirements: https://my.vhslearning.org/PublicCourseDescription.aspx?s=catalog&c=427

Computers are not provided to participating students via this grant. Students should connect with their schools regarding what computer options are available during and outside the school day.

Yes, personal computers can be used to participate in the courses. 

We based the original slate of offerings on recommendations from the STEM team at DESE. It is possible that in subsequent years we can add additional course offerings.

Classes are delivered asynchronously with synchronous opportunities available each week and can be included seamlessly into each student’s particular schedule. They run on a typical semester fall/spring schedule, beginning in September and ending in May.

As soon as a student's account is created, they will receive their username and password via email; they will then receive a registration email that includes instructions to get started and access the student orientation.

As soon as students are enrolled in a class, they will receive an email with step-by-step login instructions and a how-to login video. Students will also receive instructions to access and complete the student orientation. The student orientation will teach students to navigate the learning management system, D2L Brightspace. Please note that the AP course will not appear on a student's home page until the official course start date (September 8, 2021).

The asynchronous program is designed to make use of online learning best practices and has been found to be highly successful. VHS Learning has been offering courses successfully for 25 years to students in Massachusetts. Paced, asynchronous coursework provides flexibility to students while still requiring frequent interactions with classmates and the teacher through a variety of course activities. Courses are teacher-led and will contain synchronous components to support student learning.

All required coursework is asynchronous and all synchronous sessions will be recorded. Teachers will offer one to two synchronous sessions for students each week but these session are not required. Students will have the opportunity to join these sessions and interact directly with peers from across the state and their online teacher. These synchronous sessions will take place after school hours to accommodate different schedules in different schools. Session recordings will be available for at least two weeks. Participating schools can determine whether it makes sense to provide a space for their cohort to access these synchronous sessions in school after hours, but this is not required. Students can join them from home.

The live (synchronous) sessions will take place during the school year after school hours. Teachers will schedule the sessions at different times after school to accommodate various schedules. If a student cannot attend a live session, they can listen to the recording. While we encourage attendance during the synchronous sessions, these sessions are optional. Students can request synchronous meetings with the teacher as well. Summer sessions will be scheduled at various times throughout July and August. Students will be able to ask questions and request help with the Advanced Placement summer work.

Summer assignments are available in the course description of each Advanced Placement course. Students, parents/guardians, and site coordinators can also click here https://service.vhslearning.org/s/article/AP-Summer-Work-Directory to access a complete list of courses with summer work.

Summer assignments are required as they are a review of prerequisite content knowledge and skills. It is anticipated that the summer assignment will take about 5-6 hours to complete, though some students may take a shorter or longer period of time. Students are expected to submit their work during Week 1 of their VHS Learning AP course.

VHS Learning courses are designed to primarily use asynchronous elements so students with varying schedules are supported. It’s unlikely we’ll know the exact time of synchronous offerings for each course at the time of student enrollment, given the reality of teacher capacity and scheduling. Instructors will record synchronous sessions, and students who cannot attend will have access to the sessions from within the course.

Typically, the local site coordinator reports information from the VHS Learning SIS to the local SIS so grades are reported on student transcripts. If other arrangements are needed the local site coordinator should use the VHS Learning Service Center to submit a request and VHS Learning will be happy to consult with schools to understand their needs.

No, students enrolled in the SAPAO program will receive numeric grades.

Yes, students are expected to take the Advanced Placement exam. The cost of the Advanced Placement exam fee is covered through the grant, so it is free to the student.

Students practice AP-style questions throughout their courses, and all classes include at least one full-length practice exam in the spring semester. A variety of resources are used for exam preparation, including platform-based adaptive problem-solving platforms and the College 'Board's My AP Classroom platform.


Student Needs

Students who participate in online classes through their school remain the responsibility of their school regarding educational accommodations; however online teachers are required to provide reasonable accommodations as outlined in the student’s plan, such as extended time to complete assignments, modified workload, or modified expectations for discussion participation. By placing a student in an online class, the student’s school agrees to provide the online teacher with IEP/504 documentation. VHS Learning teachers should receive the same information any of the student’s face-to-face teachers receive so they can make necessary adjustments. If you have specific questions about your students’ needs, please set up a meeting with Jennifer; a member of the VHS Learning team will be happy to join and provide additional information.

All VHS Learning teachers are certified in the subject areas in which they teach. They are not required to have SPED certification.

To successfully access AP course content and to take the associated AP exam, students must possess appropriate English language skills. Teachers receive guidance on accommodating students with minimal to moderate language needs. Schools should assess language level before enrollment to ensure students can understand course materials. We recommend that students are assessed and meet or exceed a WIDA score of 4 in reading and writing. By enrolling an English Language Learner, schools acknowledge they are willing to provide their students with additional supports at the local site as needed. If you have specific questions about your population, please set up a meeting with Jennifer; a member of the VHS Learning team will be happy to join and provide additional information.

Students are grouped in cohorts of up to 25 students (for the course duration (full year). Students participating in the synchronous sessions will interact with students from their cohorts.

Students will interact with students in their online classroom only.

Students should have already connected with someone at their school about course selection. If students are interested in participating and have not connected with their local site coordinator, they should do so as soon as possible. 

Students should have already connected with someone at their local school to discuss course selection. If students have not started to work with a local site coordinator or guidance counselor, they should reach out to their school counselor to express interest in the program. If you're unsure of your contact at the school, please submit a support request using the following link https://service.vhslearning.org/. The local site coordinator will assist students with the registration process. Once a student is registered for a course, they will receive a registration email with instructions to get started.

Students should go to their school counselor or administrator for assistance, and their local site coordinator will then help students register for their course(s).

Please ask your school counselor or your assistant principal or principal for this information. Students can also click here https://service.vhslearning.org/ to request support, and we will help students locate their local site coordinator.

Every student that completes a course will get a transcript from VHS Learning. Most participating schools will add courses onto the student’s school transcript. Local conversations should happen about whether/how the course impacts GPA.

Yes, courses should be on the student report cards. 

It depends on the student's AP exam score and the college/university they are applying. If the student does well on the AP exam and the college the student is applying to accepts the score, the student will most likely receive college credit.

Typically, students are not able to resubmit assignments for a higher grade. Students are assessed using various assignments, including practice problem sets, where they have an opportunity to practice skills with a minimal penalty for errors. Students should communicate with their teachers if they feel they cannot complete assignments successfully and attend synchronous sessions for support before assignment deadlines. 

There are summer assignments due in the first week of class – mostly prerequisite content with which students should feel comfortable. Courses are not offered over the summer.

VHS Learning estimates between 10 and 12 hours of asynchronous work, with synchronous sessions 1-2 times/week.

Students have summer work in preparation for the school year. Schools are not required to supply teaching or site coordinator support for summer work. This is provided by VHS Learning.

We recommend students take no more than 3 Advanced Placement courses. However, this is an individual decision, and students and families should discuss course loads with their local school counselor.

Engaging students in rigorous coursework, even if they do not pass the AP exam is educationally beneficial, although our goal is most students will receive a 3 or higher on their AP exams.

Some schools using the VHS Learning program have students and parents sign a “no drop” contract prior to enrollment. This is a school-based decision.