Hawaii’s public schools will stop using the Acellus online curriculum by the end of the academic year, following a unanimous vote by the Board of Education and an in-depth review that panned the program.
A motion by Chairwoman Catherine Payne approved by the board Thursday also directs the Department of Education to allow any family to switch to another learning option at any time.
On Monday schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto sent a letter to parents advising them that an instructional content review concluded that the Acellus Learning Accelerator should be discontinued, and apologized for the disruption.
A report on the review, released Thursday, indicated that 56 curriculum specialists, resource teachers, equity staff and others assessed more than 50 Acellus courses in kindergarten through grade 12, from Sept. 22 to Oct. 2.
“At least 75% of the K-12 courses consistently received weak rubric scores of 0 or 1 for all of the four rubrics: instruction, content, technology and design,” the report said. “Resources that score a 0 or a 1 on any indicator should be carefully considered before recommending their use by educators and students.”
Reviewers noted that courses included “repetitive tasks with a low cognitive demand.” Some parts of the curriculum, however, were deemed acceptable and aligned to standards.
The Acellus Learning Accelerator, developed by the nonprofit International Academy of Science in Kansas City, Mo., was offered this year as an online curriculum or as a supplement to teachers’ instruction during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the department, 164 public schools were using the program as of last week, 106 of them elementary schools. Only about 40% of the 74,405 licenses purchased had been accessed as of Monday, according to Nanea Kalani, commu- nications director for the Department of Education.
Schools paid $25 to $100 per student for a yearlong license. Altogether, the department has spent $2.8 million on Acellus since April 1, Kalani said. The department’s risk assessment staff is looking into what recourse it might have to recover funds from the company.
In early August parents and teachers at the elementary level began complaining about outdated, racist and sexist content in video lessons and tests as well as factual errors and lack of rigor. Some parents, students and staff, however, have told the Board of Education that it worked well for them and they want to keep using it.
At Thursday’s meeting, Board of Education member Bruce Voss pressed the superintendent for a “yes or no” answer to whether families could stop using the program immediately, either by switching to their regular teacher’s instruction or another online curriculum.
Kishimoto said some schools may be able to do so right away, but that it might take time to shift gears. She stressed that “we don’t want students to miss content.” Alternative curriculum options would be available by mid- November, and parents could switch no later than the end of the quarter, she said.
Kristin Hera, registrar at Lanai High & Elementary, testified that more than 10% of students are using Acellus and that families have generally had positive reactions and want to stick with it. Acellus offers courses and electives that might not otherwise have been available at the small high school. Hera’s daughter, for example, is taking an upper-level math class through Acellus that she had hoped to take as a dual-credit course at the University of Hawaii-Maui College but was wait-listed.
Dr. Shawna Brizzolara, who teaches at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, told board members her family is pleased with the Acellus curriculum and that her daughter, an honors student at Kalaheo High, has not encountered any inappropriate material.
“We are very sensitive to racial slurs and intolerant of bigotry,” Brizzolara wrote. “So, if parents are finding these things in the earlier grades then they need to be corrected just as our old textbooks needed correcting but it doesn’t mean we have to discard the program.”
Waiahole Elementary School Principal Alexandra Obra, however, lamented the department’s lack of foresight in offering the program.
“Decision makers at the Department of Education have failed our students, teachers and the Waiahole community,” she wrote. “As a small school, we do not have the resources to squander. Yet this is what happened when I invested $9,000 on Acellus.”
Read the report
Read the Acellus content review report at 808ne.ws/acellusreview.