Sock Colorado Cyber School
from eSchool News, December 31, 2002, and featured at
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A dispute erupted on Dec. 16 when the ratings came out on the
Branson Alternative School, a virtual school headquartered in
Branson, Colo. State officials marked Branson down as one of
the worst schools in the state, but angry supporters blame
brick-and-mortar rules for artificially depressing the online
Branson Alternative, operated from a 1920s schoolhouse in
southern Colorado, reportedly earns millions for the otherwise
impoverished district. And parents say it renewed their faith
in public education after their children, many of whom have
special physical or emotional needs, had bad experiences in
But in just-released state rankings, Branson Alternative was
tagged the worst elementary school, worst middle school, and
third-worst high school in Colorado.
Critics say the rankings had more to do with turnout than with
measures of school quality.
Like all students in all public schools in Colorado, kids who
take courses from the Branson virtual school have to take
Colorado Standards of Academic Progress (CSAP) and ACT tests.
But last school year, 95 percent of Branson’s students didn’t.
Each of them was averaged in as a zero. Less than zero,
actually. The punitive scoring for no-shows was designed to
discourage principals from letting weak test-takers take a
pass on exam day.
“I don’t oppose the testing,” said Branson Superintendent Alan
Aufderheide. “But to put a punitive, coercive thing in like
the math they put in, it doesn’t sit well with a number of
people—me as well as any number of parents.”
Officials at Branson School started putting coursework online
four years ago so the 40 students in the school wouldn’t fall
behind on mud days.
“The roads are clay or gravel, and when we get a good rain for
a day and a half, it just turns to awful,” Aufderheide said.
The online courses became an internet success story, according
to an Associated Press report. The virtual Branson School won
recognition from the state Education Department last year as a
bona fide public school, and this year it offers a full slate
of courses by computer to 520 students, from kindergarten up,
Families had many reasons for not taking last year’s tests,
Aufderheide said. For some, it was inconvenient because
distance-learning students have to travel to a testing site to
meet a proctor. For others, it was a matter of political
But at least one legislator says Aufderheide and Branson
OnLine parents are wrong to expect special treatment just
because their students use keyboards instead of classrooms.
“I’m pretty adamant about the fact that if we’re going to
spend public dollars to educate these kids, and we’re going to
put them in school districts, then they take the CSAP,” said
state Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, chief author of the
school finance law.
Aufderheide said the school was pushing for online testing—but
state officials said that for now, only pencil-and-paper tests
would be administered.