Alternative Learning Environment
What is an Alternative Learning Environment?
ALEs are learning experiences for public school students that are developed and supervised via a student learning plan with certified teachers. ALEs are spelled out in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 392-121-182. Unlike most conventional schools, ALEs sanction student learning based in our non-graded, competency-based system that relies on student application of learning and performance-based assessment. ALE provides the legal and legislative basis for our ability to create and implement our innovative, flexible program with our students. The other significant component of ALE is that student achievement and funding are not based primarily on “seat-time”, which is how conventional high schools are funded.
What this means for Nova
Nova provides a strong academic program within a competency and project-based teaching and learning system, performance-based assessment, seminar-style courses, multi-level classes, and independent study. In addition to learning individual and social responsibility, Nova students design their own programs of study within an interdisciplinary non-graded structure.
In a “seat-time” funded program, schools receive their funding based on student attendance within a 20-day timeframe. Within ALE, Nova is funded based on the number of hours per week that students are engaged in learning activities. Full funding is based on 25 hours per week per student. A student who is making progress in 5 classes is, according to ALE, engaged in 25 hours per week.
To document student achievement and meet ALE funding requirements, we have created an internal database. Teachers keep track of class attendance and assignments and the database generates monthly reports on each student that calculate monthly progress and hours. Students meet monthly with their coordinators to review their overall progress. If it is determined that a student is not making progress, the student learning plan will be revisited and, after two continuous months of not making progress, students must keep track of their individual weekly hours for one month or until they are again on-track and making successful progress. If a student continues to not make progress, we can only claim their actual hours of learning activities and, if a student falls below the ALE threshold, they can be released, according to the legislative guidelines, from Nova. At that point, we will help the student find a program or school that is a better fit.
Overall, the ALE structure is a structure for success. It is built on an innovative teaching and learning system with built-in mechanisms to help students succeed. Although there are graduated consequences in place for students who are not making adequate progress, at each step, the student and their family are involved in and aware of both the plan for getting back on track and the consequences if that graduated step does not work.
Here at Nova, we believe that ALE is a structural and funding system for our type of school. Feel free to talk with your student’s coordinator, our principal, other parents and guardians, and Friends of Nova for further clarification or if you have any questions. Because of our ALE structure, every Nova student has an individual learning plan and must demonstrate progress in each of these domains. Our universal model of supports includes the following:
- A teacher advisor who creates a learning plan with personal and academic goals and modifies the plan as needed throughout the year, a weekly meeting with that teacher in a group advisory, at least one monthly individual meeting with their teacher advisor, and at least one yearly family meeting with their teacher advisor and facilitated by the student.
- Teachers provide a monthly status report on all classes, teacher advisors share this information about class status and increase interventions and supports if needed, and students have a graduation worksheet that charts their progress toward graduation as they finish credits. Additionally, students with IEPs have at least two support adults, students have choice over their schedule, what committees to participate in, how they will meet their service requirements and how they will demonstrate competencies.
- The student’s teacher advisor is their advocate and social emotional educator when conflicts with other students or staff members occur and if any school norms or district rules are broken. Our discipline policy is based on transformative and redemptive justice principles and embraces a needs assessment and growth mindset when enacted; mediation is always available to resolve conflict between any of our students and members our community and the greater community.
- Nova students have access to basic needs support like clothing, food, school supplies etc. in our building and we connect students to necessary resources in and out of the building for mental health supports, medical necessities, gender health, drug and alcohol evaluations and counseling.
- As noted previously, academics are non-graded, competency based and driven by what is meaningful and worthwhile to know and do. Students can create a 3- to 5- year plan to finish high school based on the amount of time it takes each student to demonstrate competency in all graduation requirements. Students can create independent contracts and demonstrate competencies through independent inquiry projects and field experiences. Students have the option to request extra time on tests and assignments, extra support from teachers, alternative ways of completing assignments that still demonstrate competency. When thinking about if a student is making progress, we consider the following domains of growth: Are they making progress academically, going to class, turning in work and earning credit?
- Are they making progress in guiding their own educations (going to their advisory group, meeting with their teacher advisor, knowing where they are and what steps they can implement within their academic progression)?
- Are they making progress in participating in our democracy (i.e. signed up for a committee, going to committee, discussing school issues in advisory group)?
- Are they making progress in participating in our community (not causing harm, positive contributions, supporting others, making progress to complete their school and community service requirements)?
- If a student is not making progress, before moving to additional supports we consider:
- Are the universal supports being provided fully?
- Is the student accessing those supports?
- What are the barriers to accessing those supports?
- How can we remove those barriers?
- What kind of accountability can the teacher advisor, student and family add to increase the student’s willingness to access those supports?