Academic Programs

RFT Mission Statement

RFT started in 1993 with a mission to improve the 3 A's of academics- Attitude, Attendance, and Achievement- in rising high school students in order to increase the size of the qualified applicant pool for college and jobs and to become good American citizens. We organized students who both had the school years remaining prior to graduation as well as the need for improvement based on grades, college board scores, and extracurricular activities (all critical elements for college admissions) into groups of 60-90 students who would spend a week on a college campus.

The founder of RFT spent more than 20 years volunteering to interview prospective high school candidates interested in attending the USAF Academy.   Most of these students were in 11th or 12th grade and many had not lived up to their potential in what RFT calls the "forgotten years" of 9th and 10th grade. 

bell curve_1

If somehow RFT  could help students see the direct link between grade school education and future careers or post secondary education, then we could nudge the largest group of students currently identified as "average performers" in the Bell Curve to the right. There are already a large number of programs focused on those on the left and right side of the curve, but few if any on those in the middle.

The RFT Summer Experiential Program worked well for improving the first "A" (Attitude) in the mission statement. Students live on a college campus and tackle college level problem solving in a variety of STEM subjects, have the chance to pilot real airplanes, snorkel in wet suits, complete leadership reaction and challenge courses, and use training courses designed for private companies as well as federal agencies. They do not just envision themselves in college or in a career field. 

However, our initial reliance on this sole programmatic strategy proved challenging to show measurable improvement in  the third A in the mission statement- Achievement. RFT community based partners including school teachers and principals requested that we incorporate an academic component in our total package. After years of searching we chose a web based academic program in 2005 called Extralearning Online (ELO).

Not in Competition with Existing Academic Programs

RFT offers ELO to schools and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) who may want a supplemental program to meet their programmatic requirements. We are not mandating any organization uses ELO in order to use our summer experiential programs. However, based on the varied learning styles offered, the approval of more than 1/3 of the nation's state boards of education, and our validated outcomes, RFT recommends ELO to any school or community based program.

Aurora (CO) Public Schools

Part of the reason we chose this program is that our online academic program director, Patrick (Rick) Newell helped create an alternative high school in Aurora, Colorado using ELO as the source for academics. Originally it had been used for adult education in Aurora Public Schools, and was so successful, it was expanded into the alternative high school. David L. Hartenbach High School targeted the students who had dropped out of regular high schools, and Rick was an administrator in that school. It became the first school in Aurora Public Schools (APS) to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as defined in “No Child Left Behind”.

Extralearning Online

Designed by Dr. Robert Taggart, President Carter's director of Youth Policy Programs for the US Department of Labor, ELO has served more than 800,000 students for over 30 years with a mastery learning (proficiency based) pedagogy incorporating reading, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (hand on) learning styles in nearly every lesson. His original program was known as the Comprehensive Competencies Program or CCP and was renamed ELO when it went fully online. Half the program focuses on academics and the other half targets work force development, as Dr. Taggart realized not every student is suited for college. 

RFT started using this program in 2006 under the provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as a Supplemental Education Services (SES) provider. The strategy was to tutor K-12 students meeting the federal criteria to receive out of school tutoring (free/reduced lunch and low performing in school), hire and train local teachers to use ELO, and reinvest all the funds generated back into sponsoring local 7th-10th graders on RFT summer college experiential programs.

ELO has been examined through meta-analysis (combining scores and students from different schools) and tested for empirical evidence of success. The results are being shared at professional conferences and in forthcoming articles in peer-reviewed journals.

No Child Left Behind

RFT's use of ELO was approved by the state boards of education in 17 states including CA, TX, NY, MD, VA, KS, AK, CO, LA, IL, GA, FL, OK, VT, MT, AR, and PA to use ELO for K-12 tutoring in Math, Reading, and English Language Arts. More than 400 students participated in these tutoring programs achieving an average grade level gain of 2 years in Math and between 1 and 2 years in Reading in less than 40 hours in the ELO program. These gains were measured using the criterion referenced tests within the program as well as the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE), a norm referenced test, given pre and post program.

As waivers removing the stipulations of NCLB were granted to states by the U.S. Department of Education, RFT opted out of these programs.  Since 2011 RFT has impacted several hundred additional students through grant sponsored programs including GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) in partnerships with both the University of Kansas and Wichita State University.

Every Student Succeeds Act

The US Department of Education recently published a report on civil rights data from surveys on nearly all 95,000 public schools for the years 2013-2014. The findings indicate:

  • Graduation rates have improved, but many students lack college preparatory classes in math and science
  • 48% of all high schools offer calculus but this figure decreases to only 33% for predominately Black and Hispanic high schools
  • 6.5 million students or 13% nationally were absent from school for 15 or more days 


Extralearning Online is delivered through the web and provides advanced math and science curricula as part of its college preparation courses. Through ELO the 52% of all high schools or 67% of those high schools with a primarily Black or Hispanic student population can receive one on one instruction currently missing. The courses can be customized by RFT staff to align with a local syllabus and the outcomes are "evidence based".

By combining the "carrot" or positive motivation of a summer college immersion with measurable academic achievement, a school can utilize both ELO and RFT summer experiences to improve both Attitude and therefore Attendance in middle and high school students. The first 2 A's of the RFT Mission Statement are measurable and address this nationally recognized issue.

Customization to Local Syllabus and Operational Experience

RFT is able to adapt ELO content to align with the local school syllabus so the program becomes a complement to the local classroom instruction. This customization makes the program specific to the requirements of each district or school.

We have quite a bit of experience with low income, diverse student groups in both rural and urban areas. RFT staff train local teachers how to use the program in an initial 6-8 hour training session, and it is these teachers who directly interact with the students. RFT staff monitors and tracks progress daily for the following 3 months after training. We understand that it is impossible for a teacher to completely absorb the nuances of web based instruction in 6-8 hours and integrate ELO into their instructional program. Thus each day the students use the program, we send written feedback to each instructor on their previous session.

Teachers who follow this feedback and correct their mistakes quickly find these detailed daily reports reduced to comments like "great job". Our goal is to make the teacher comfortable and competent in the shortest amount of time. The RFT staff is available by phone and email during each ELO session, so we expect a close relationship between RFT and the local teacher/instructor. 


ELO is highly effective to bring students who are deficient up to grade level in a short time frame. Teachers create Student Learning Plans (SLPs) by initially assessing students using the criterion referenced tests embedded in ELO. This establishes a grade level proficiency for a subject. A second assessment identifies the gaps in learning, so the teacher can assign lessons to fill these gaps so students do not become bored going over what they already know. 

The ELO instruction is 1-1 100% of the time and enables the teacher to effectively work with a classroom of 15-20 students. Those students who need additional attention can receive it, while those students at grade level or above can proceed at their own pace and not be held back as the teacher spends time with those who are behind. 

Students receive the same quality and level of instruction using ELO regardless of the teacher, but the teacher is in control of this instruction and evaluating the needs of each student. 

According to a research paper written by Dr. Jack Trammell, professor of Sociology at Randolph Macon College in Virginia and the former assessment expert for the State of Virginia GEAR UP program, for every hour the students use ELO, they gain 2% proficiency in Math and 2.5% in Reading- see 'Extralearning Online - An Aggregate Analysis' here.


Credit Recovery

Some RFT partners like GEAR UP use ELO for credit recovery, especially for high school students where grade level gains for a specific subject are irrelevant. The average gains for students using ELO for credit recovery are 1 semester for each 20 hours in the program or 2 semesters (1 academic year) for every 40 hours.

This data was further validated by one specific GEAR UP program which used ELO from the summer 2015 through summer 2016 for Credit Recovery targeting high school aged students who had not received a passing grade. Under Credit Recovery RFT is able to customize ELO courses to align with local requirements by subject and grade level, and in this case the courses included English 9, English 10, Biology, Algebra Geometry II, Algebra Geometry III, Chemistry, Physical Science, World History, American History, Introduction to College Algebra, English 11 and Economics.

For the students who received a credit during this period:

  1. 78 students earned credit towards graduation.
  1. These 78 students were awarded credit in a total of 168 courses, comprised of 85 quarter courses, 66 semester courses, and 17 year-long courses.    
  1. The 78 students earned a total of 71.25 credits, or an average of 0.91 credits per student (where 1 credit is equal to 1 year long course).    
  1. The 78 students averaged 16.56 days in the program with a total time-on-assignment of 35.67 hours.  That means the average student completed a year-long course in approximately 39 hours, a semester course in approximately 19.5 hours and a quarter course in approximately 9.75 hours.
  1. The 78 students completed an average of 2.91 units and 10.59 lessons for each course in which they worked.
  1. The average level of proficiency for the 78 students, prior to beginning the course in which they earned credit, was 55.44%.  After completing the course, the average level of proficiency was 84.69%.  That represents an increase in proficiency of 29.25% for every course in which they earned credit, and is equivalent to a change from a letter grade of F to a letter grade of B.

Empirically Tested

As RFT programs expanded, and included the use of ELO, outside researchers began to take notice of the results. Independent researchers such as Dr. Jack Trammell and others have examined the data generated by RFT programs and ELO usage and the aggregate results indicate very consistent success in helping students increase achievement. A draft version of a recent article written by Dr. Trammell can be viewed here- see 'Extralearning Online - An Aggregate Analysis' here.

The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) conducts annual summer staff development conferences under their High Schools That Work (HSTW) initiatives. Dr. Jack Trammell was invited to present his research at a session of the HSTW program on 15 July 2016 in Louisville, KY. His goal was to showcase the outcomes achieved by multiple school and CBO sites that used ELO from an evidence based perspective. His analysis can be reviewed in greater detail in the link above.

Immediate Academic Assistance

ELO is also a tool for teachers/instructors to utilize for struggling students who for some reason are not grasping concepts in a subject. Because the program uses 4 different learning styles in its lessons as well as assesses student progress at the end of each lesson, unit, and course, a teacher can supplement their ongoing instruction with ELO with the confidence that the student will become measurably proficient in the subject. 


Special Needs Students

RFT used ELO extensively from 2005-2012 in school and after school settings as the core program for No Child Left Behind. Many of these students eligible for after school tutoring were special needs students who had IEP and 504 plans. RFT creates individual learning plans for each student it serves based on initial testing and placement. Thus meeting the requirements of an IEP or 504 plan is what our staff can support.

The outcomes of our work with special needs in most cases show proficiency improvements above that achieved solely due to classroom work. Refer to our data in Dr. Trammell's report- see 'Extralearning Online - An Aggregate Analysis' here.

Not Just for Schools

ELO has shown to be an excellent module to any (CBO) that wishes to add an academic component to their program offerings. Since many grants require a measurable academic outcome for a CBO to competitively apply for funds, ELO enables any CBO to apply for foundation, federal, state, and private funding. 

ELO is an effective tool for a CBO's staff who may not be certified teachers. The program provides the actual academic instruction not the instructor. 

RFT staff works with the local community leadership, building on your existing talents, resources, and activities benefiting local kids to make your community better.  At the heart, our goal is not to replace your local youth program, but to compliment your existing activities with the additional strength of the supporting elements that we offer.

ELO Subscriptions

The program is sold by subscription for a period of time, nominally 12 months, but shorter time frames of 1-3 months for summer enrichment/credit recovery/remediation are available. Once a student completes their assigned lessons and demonstrates proficiency, other students can use the time remaining for that same subscription at no additional cost.

"In Kind" Donation Support

Many federal grant programs require an awardee to supply an "in kind" match. RFT is able to support such a match for large or small numbers of students using a web based IT training program to meet this requirement. 

This IT program enables the instructors to schedule their students for training using more than 60,000 streaming videos through Atomic Learning. The more than 250 application providers including Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, etc. offer instruction that in some cases meets the state requirements in IT as well as subjects like English language Arts and Math. Because RFT offers this program 24 hours a day, the potential for large "in kind" support makes this component an excellent fit for programs that need such a match.




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