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Guidance for Districts & Schools Using Colorado Empowered Learning

Colorado Empowered Learning Guidance


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts and schools are providing a remote option for students that leverages support from online providers. Utilizing the current statewide supplemental online and blended learning program commonly known as Colorado Empowered Learning (CEL) is one remote option. CEL is an initiative that provides supplemental online courses to schools and districts at a subsidized cost. CEL has recently been able to expand access to affordable programming through support from the Governor’s Emergency Education Reserve Fund (GEER Fund) of the CARES Act.1 This page provides considerations and information about responsibilities that a district/school should be aware of when utilizing online courses through CEL.2


For the 2020-21 school year only, districts and schools that utilize online courses through Colorado Empowered Learning have been offered three options to choose from as outlined below:
  • Option 1 involves the use of an online asynchronous course that includes support by a teacher provided by CDLS.  This option is most similar to the supplemental online course offering model that existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Option 2 involves similar offerings to Option 1 but a district/school-based teacher would oversee the classroom and receive support from a CDLS teacher. A local teacher would therefore stay actively engaged in teacher-pupil interaction.
  • Option 3 involves access to a learning management system with grade level content so that district/school-based teachers would have access to digital learning structures and resources as they plan for remote learning. This option, like Option 2, utilizes the local teacher to drive teacher-pupil interaction. 

Regardless of the option that a district or school selects, due diligence must be taken to ensure that requirements related to funding, instructional hours, instruction of special student populations, accountability, and others are being met. For options 2 and 3, many of these requirements will be more closely accounted for because of the regular, local teacher-pupil interaction. For all options however, all applicable legal responsibilities remain with the school/district and do not become the responsibility of Colorado Empowered Learning.

Requirements & Accountability for Students

Given that CDLS is a provider and is not a school, the performance data for students who are enrolled in online courses through CDLS will be attributed to their school of enrollment for 2021 state performance frameworks and federal accountability. Performance data attributed to the school includes all state assessment achievement and growth data, as well as graduation, dropout, matriculation, and all other relevant attendance and performance outcome data. If the school is assigned a multi-year framework report, then these students’ data will be included in the 2021, 2022, and 2023 performance frameworks and federal accountability. The district is responsible for understanding the relationship of these students to the accountability of their enrolled school and the request to reconsider process cannot be used to adjust the 2021 ratings or accountability clock status as a result of any of the online course options selected. 

The district and school also retain the responsibility to ensure that instructional programs meet the needs of students with IEPs and English Learners.  This includes ensuring that instruction is aligned with Colorado Academic Standards and Colorado English Language Proficiency Standards and that online educators meet state and federal educator licensure and qualification requirements - particularly for educators working with students with disabilities or English Learners (ELs).  Please see district/school obligations in providing services for ELs.

Student October Count & Funding 

Students who are provided remote learning through Colorado Empowered Learning will be evaluated for funding as outlined in the 2024 Student October Count Audit Resource Guide
Please note that the requirements for identifying teacher-pupil instruction and contact time is something that needs to be clearly identified by the school or district. Many guidelines related to screen-time (including those that have been circulated by CDLS) do not adequately address
these requirements, so specificity for how time will be met is important to delineate at the school or district level.  Additional guidance is provided below:
  • Use of an “hours conversion” to calculate equivalent instructional hours is not allowed for remote learning (for example, “6 hours of in-person instruction equals 2 hours of online instruction”)
  • Remote learning is not limited to just online learning activities. It includes any activities that demonstrate a student is engaged in the educational process as defined by the local board. This includes, but is not limited to hands-on projects, educational (worksheet) packets, movement activities, etc. 
  • If districts are concerned about limiting screen time (especially for younger students), then they will need to consider providing a combination of online and off-line activities to ensure that the instructional material and content being covered is equivalent to what would be covered during in-person learning.  If the same content and instructional material is covered, then it would be appropriate to use the in-person instructional hours as a basis for the equivalency.
    • Example: 
      • Consider a “normal” day for a 2nd grader that includes the following types of “subject” or “content” areas and approximate amount of time throughout the day totaling 330 minutes (per day) of in-person instruction.
        • Circle time- 20 minutes (review date, months, seasons, etc.)
        • Math- 45 minutes
        • Reading- 60 minutes
        • Writing- 60 minutes
        • Science- 30 minutes
        • Social Studies – 30 minutes
        • Life skills- 25 minutes
        • PE- 30 minutes
        • Music 30 minutes
      • When developing an equivalency of activities to cover the same amount of material and content during remote learning, the district determines how best to provide this instruction 
        • The district chooses to use Colorado Empowered Learning courses to cover math, reading and writing, but not the other subject/content areas
        • The district determines how best to cover these other content/subject areas through off-line activities (such as hands-on projects, educational (worksheet) packets, movement activities, etc.)
  • Please note that if online course offerings are less than what would normally be covered during in-person instruction, the student may not be eligible for full-time funding.

Elementary Grade Level Considerations 

For early elementary grade levels (K-3), districts and schools should be aware that they, not CEL/CDLS, are responsible for meeting all READ Act requirements including, but not limited to administering READ Act assessments and progress monitoring. 

Districts/schools cannot use READ Act funding for the purchase of online courses through CEL/CDLS. 
Districts and schools should understand that they, not CEL/CDLS, are also responsible for any school readiness assessment requirements for students in Kindergarten.
Be aware that CEL/CDLS provided a communication outlining that their elementary courseware is designed “so that synchronous or real-time instruction is not required.” It is important to note that although CDLS curriculum may be designed in such a way, it ultimately highlights the importance of districts or schools needing to make plans for what teacher-pupil interaction will be for students over the course of the semester and year. 
The district or school is responsible for ensuring that online courses meet the needs of elementary aged students. This would include considering opportunities to ensure wellness and connection and establishing a remote learning environment that sustains connectedness to the student’s home school community. 
1. The provider for these online courses is Colorado Digital Learning Solutions (CDLS)
2. Please note that what is presented in CDLS’s “Option 1” is modeled after their original program that was delivered to students who were mostly receiving instruction in a secondary level brick and mortar setting and took one or a limited number of supplemental classes online while staying in an environment overseen by a local educator. As such, districts that use Option 1 will require schools/districts to consistently engage in the learning plans/progressions of students