Blended Learning Experiment Cuts Course Fail Rate 50%

Students in my high school courses traditionally complete 60 graded assignments for a total of 2,000 points per semester. My grading system measures student performance via timed tasks with firm deadlines. Classwork/homework assignments are worth 10 points. Bi-weekly quizzes check for understanding and are worth 50 points. The most important part of my instructional program is in-class writing assignments, which are timed and worth 100 points each. I have experienced a relatively consistent a 22-28% course fail rate over the past ten years.

Last year, thanks to my principal gifting me with a cart of thirty iPads, I was able to offer twenty-five blended learning lessons to my students. These online activities extended my course and ranged from external reading assignments assessed by multiple choice quizzes, viewing historical videos and creating a timeline, notes or writing a response to the video. Other activities were note-taking tutorials, flipped mini-lectures, outlining chapter sections, and building flashcard sets of academic and content specific vocabulary. I also provided creative activities where students could develop a flow chart for an argument, or draw a cartoon illustrating a historical event or concept. Other assignments were discussion board posts of at least 100 words.

Students’ enthusiasm for these assignments built over the semester, partially because the students had control over the assignments and could work on them when they chose. Over the course of the semester, they finished more and more. At the end of the semester, my course failure rate was 13%, the lowest it has ever been in my career as a teacher. Now, I don’t have enough evidence to claim that the iPads alone have improved my course failure rate, but the facts are clear. Our students are spending more and more time online, and online, or blended learning is becoming a necessary arrow in an effective teacher’s quiver.

A short survey of my students revealed that 88% have internet service at home and 81% report using the internet daily, or multiple times per day. 64% of these students spend 2 hours or more online, most frequently participating in social networking, chatting, listening to music, watching videos, and gaming. Only 5.7% of these students reported reading online.   There is a tremendous opportunity for teachers who are willing to learn how to use technology creatively and turn this recreation time into increased instructional time.

Unfortunately, most brick and mortar schools have not leveraged online techniques that allow students choice over time, place, or pace to demonstrate their knowledge. With training, teachers will be able to add creative and engaging lessons online and more students may pass. Last year, 639 students took World History. A twenty-four percent fail rate means that 154 students need to repeat the class. This requires four sections of World History at a 38:1 student-teacher ratio. Thus, if  blended learning could be implemented on a wider scale, we could reduce our course failure rates, and repurpose monies spent on costly remediation.

Note: A version of this article was published by the Common Core Technology Project in March, 2014.  You can see that article here: