A state audit released this week found that the North Carolina Virtual Public School misreported student enrollment and poorly documented teacher evaluations.
According to the audit, the virtual school, which offers more than 100 online classes for students across the state, over-reported enrollment in its annual report to the State Board of Education.
Despite its omission of 22 charter schools that had students enrolled in the program, the virtual school reported 50,042 enrolled students instead of the actual enrollment of 49,189.
The audit notes that this kind of misreporting increases the risk for errors in teacher pay as salaries are determined by the number of students who complete online courses.
The audit also says that the registration system was not tightly monitored. Four teachers of virtual classes had access to the system, the audit says, making it possible for someone to potentially inflate enrollment numbers to boost pay. Despite errors in enrollment, the audit did not find any incidents of overpayment.
State auditor Beth Wood says the school's biggest lapse was with teacher evaluations, which her office studied with a sample of 60 teachers.
“We found that one instructional leader who was a teacher did their own performance evaluation,” she said. “You had three teachers that didn't get an evaluation until we asked for them, you had another two that didn't have an evaluation, so you're looking at issues with 9 out of 60, and that error rate is high.”
Wood says the school's problems at the end of the day didn't have huge consequences, but the audit still sends an important message.
“I don't think it says that it's necessarily a success or failure - one way the other,” she said. “We're at the front end of something that's new and different, and here are the weaknesses, so let's not let them get out of hand.”
In a statement, the state Department of Public Instruction says it fixed all of the problems addressed by the auditor's office before the beginning of this school year. It also added that the audit investigated "several areas in which nothing was reportable reinforcing the strength in our processes."
The state's auditor office reviewed the school from July 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013.
Since its launch in 2007, the state's virtual public school has served over 175,000 middle and high school students. In 2011-12, more than 49,000 students from 115 school districts and 36 charter schools took online classes from the virtual school.