3 Tips for Using Online Learning to Elevate Student Achievement

Window Rock Unified School District in the Navajo Nation Shares Best Practices

Window Rock Unified School District in the Navajo Nation Shares Best Practices

There’s nothing we love more than sharing the success stories of schools and districts using our curriculum. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Window Rock Unified School District, a small rural district in the Navajo Nation, about the success they’ve experienced with Apex Learning and how our curriculum is transforming the educational opportunities available to their students.

Window Rock Unified School District students were skipping class with the expectation that even if they failed, they could make it up with an easy online course. This was resulting in poor performance and students who were not mastering grade-level content. Even more, many students were also facing other challenging life situations that were obstacles to their learning.

Administrators knew something had to change. Working together with educators, they wanted to change the culture and perception of online learning in the district from a credit recovery-only solution to a critical tool for a variety of learning situations. Rebecca McClellan, who runs the credit recovery program using Apex Learning, and the assistant principal of the high school, Arthur Ben took some time to share their takeaways for implementing a successful digital curriculum program and how to maximize its impact on student learning.  

1) Structure, accountability, and high expectations are key.

Educators at Window Rock USD set high expectations for their students. Partnering with Apex Learning, Window Rock USD has been able to create an environment of high achievement in which students are challenged yet supported. Ms. McClellan and Mr. Ben emphasize the importance of celebrating successes, both small and large, to keep students motivated. Ms. McClellan has a “data wall” in her classroom that recognizes quarterly student progress. Students receive a certificate of completion when they complete and pass a course for credit toward graduation. When they complete all graduation requirements, their name is added to a section of the wall labeled “I’m Ready.”

Many students at Window Rock USD are faced with challenges outside of school that can impact their motivation and engagement. Ensuring that students and parents understand the benefits of structured, rigorous online learning goes a long way towards increasing motivation and achievement. Students may have low home support if their parents have little educational background or have had a bad experience with the education system. In some cases, students in the district live with grandparents who only speak the Navajo language or know little English and can’t help with their schoolwork.

When Ms. McClellan and Mr. Ben restructured their online learning program, they made sure that accountability was a key component. Students and parents agree to a contract in which students must reach at least a 70 percent mastery level when they take Apex Learning Courses. Ms. McClellan emphasized that “students have to be accountable; build a picture of what that looks like.” If students are really struggling, they have an intervention contract with Ms. McClellan and Mr. Ben in which they receive tutoring three times per week until they reach content mastery of 75 percent or higher.

2) When students are given more options for learning, they will take advantage of them.

With Apex Learning, students can take courses that would normally not be offered, such as college and career prep, music, and foreign language. The district now also offers AP courses, after several years without them, and some of the students who took AP courses online to be better prepared for college have gone on to the Ivy League and other prestigious schools.

3) Expect more from your students; they will rise to the challenge.

Window Rock students in the credit recovery program achieved a 97 percent passing rate for courses they took with Apex Learning, with an average course grade of 80 percent. Ms. McClellan emphasizes to students that being prepared for their futures is not an option. They can achieve because of the supports and scaffolds in Apex Learning Courses, and there are always teachers who can coach and support them.

The educators and administrators at Window Rock USD recognize that in order to elevate to excellence, students need to be challenged. The higher the expectations, the more students will meet the challenge. Principal Dan Horsley added, “Knowing that their teachers had high expectations for them opened up a whole new world for our students. Hold kids to a standard so that they’re ready for whatever comes next in their life.”

Learn more here about the amazing online learning program at Window Rock Unified that has increased rigor and student achievement.  


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