Big Data/Analytics

Test for the Good of the Learner – Adaptively with Immediate Feedback

How about adaptive tests that are shorter because they zero in on skills and knowledge levels of each learner?

How about giving these tests 3 times a year instead of long tests at the end of the year?

How about having immediate results so that teachers, students, and families know what gaps need filling, skills need practice, gains need celebrating?

Two states are currently working on replacing end of year summative tests (like Smarter Balanced) with these MAP online adaptive tests given three times a year and providing guidance immediately to teachers instead of sending information to the next year’s teacher on last year’s student.

Read about it here:

What Do Formative and Summative Assessments Measure? Do We Need So Many Tests? Can We Now More Effectively Ensure Learning?

Assessments are valuable if they guide, incite, accelerate, or reward learning. For many students, assessments do not deliver any of those positive benefits. In fact, for many, tests bring anxiety, derail creative teacher instructional plans to bring student performance up through test prep, and cause them to feel discouraged or even ashamed.


Inside the Digital Transformation – Part 1

This article lays out important understandings of the need to design systems and organize technologies and content to deliver effective learning. With strategic planning, care, and appropriate architecture, our teachers and students could be supported in using the vast wealth of open education resources while making progress and needs easily visible to learners, teachers and parents.


Student Information Systems (SIS)

From Learn More About K-12 Student Information Systems

What You Should Know About K-12 Student Information Systems

An effective Student Information System (SIS) is a crucial tool for enabling any modern K-12 school to function at maximum efficiency and get the best results for students. With schools handling reams of data and more demands for transparency and accessibility, K-12 SIS software products help administrators streamline communication across the institution. Countless daily tasks that were once completed manually by school staff are now automated and managed using SIS software, making these products vital tools for primary and secondary schools.

While Student Information Systems also exist for higher education institutions, this category includes products specifically designed to serve the unique needs of K-12 schools. There are similarities between both types of SIS software, but companies usually target one market or the other with their software because the institutions have such different needs. For example, parents are typically much more involved in schooling when their children are in primary and secondary grades, so SIS products for K-12 tend to incorporate more features for communicating with parents, such as messaging functions or online parent portals. K-12 classes also often have more frequent graded assignments, quizzes, and tests, and more stringent requirements to report test results to local and state education agencies. As a result, K-12 Student Information Systems often have robust assessment features that allow administrators to run a variety of analytical reports to get the clearest picture of their students’ achievement levels.

Key Benefits of K-12 Student Information Systems

  • Facilitates sharing of student information across departments
  • Enables greater communication between administrators, teachers, parents and students
  • Allows schools to assess students more effectively
  • Automates reporting on key school performance indicators

Why Use K-12 Student Information Systems?

Information management — K-12 administrators need student data for a variety of functions, including attendance, grades, contacting families, discipline, health records, and food service. A Student Information System houses all of this data in one integrated system, so there is a single source of truth no matter who is accessing the system. Having this information accessible in a digitized system reduces the amount of time staff spent maintaining records, makes daily tasks faster, and ensures records are accurate and up-to-date.

Streamlined communication — A key marker of a well-run school is that the entire school community has open channels of communication and is working together to help students be successful. K-12 Student Information Systems centralize contact information for parents and students, so teachers and staff can easily get in touch when the need arises. Most provide online portals for students and parents with self-service options for checking grades, attendance, or other information. Mass notification features provide a quick way of sending out important news or reminders to the entire community. Messaging functions allow students and parents to reach teachers to ask about grades or seek extra help, and give teachers a way to manage those requests. Mobile apps that accompany some SIS products have built-in messaging options that facilitate those lines of communication.

Assessment and reporting — Student learning and achievement is at the heart of everything a school does. K-12 Student Information Systems often have robust assessment features built in to keep tabs on how students are performing. Depending on the product, teachers can create assessments or analyze data from past assessments students have taken. The interconnected nature of an SIS allows that data to be shared across departments, so a teacher can input a student test score that might later be reviewed by a guidance counselor, a volleyball coach, or a vice principal. With the volumes of data in an SIS, administrators can run a range of reports on not only assessment results but attendance, demographic shifts, finances, and other topics.

Who Uses K-12 Student Information Systems?

From district office officials to a single student, people in a variety of roles may use different parts of a K-12 Student Information System.

Students — On a daily basis, students use an SIS platform to get updates on data like their grades and attendance. Built-in messaging functions on SIS websites and in their mobile apps also allow students to easily get in touch with teachers to ask questions or get help. Some students may use the platforms to print transcripts or get information for college applications.

Parents — Much in the way students use SIS platforms, parents access them most frequently to keep tabs on their student’s performance in school. Parents generally have access to parent portals or mobile apps that display student grades, attendance, and behavior records. They may also be able to manage the student’s extracurricular activities, student fees, lunch plan, and health or special education records.

Teachers — SIS systems are probably the most-used software tools in a teacher’s typical day. Teachers use SIS platforms to take attendance, input grades, message students or parents, record behavior issues, and manage special education documentation. Reporting functions allow teachers to analyze assessment data to help them determine how to adjust their lessons to better meet student needs. Messaging functions can also help improve communication with parents and students.

Non-faculty school staff — Front office staff use SIS data to contact parents, update addresses, print report cards, and schedule bus pickups. Academic counselors register students for required classes or use gradebook data to help students determine which colleges to apply to. Nurses, sports coaches, food service workers, disciplinarians, maintenance staff, and bus drivers may also use SIS software or pull data from it.

School administrators — At the administrative level, principals and vice principals use SIS software both to view data on individual students or teachers as well as to get high-level looks at the institution’s performance. Reporting functions allow administrators to analyze academic performance across different student groups. Mass messaging allows principals to blast important news to the entire school community.

Superintendents — For superintendents and other district-level staff managing multiple schools, an integrated SIS gives them the power to pull data from across the entire district. Reporting tools streamline the process of gathering data required by local, state, and federal education authorities, helping school districts maintain compliance with applicable reporting laws. Those reports can also reveal areas for improvement across the district, helping leaders shape their future plans.

Kinds of K-12 Student Information Systems

While many K-12 Student Information Systems have similar feature sets, SIS vendors have developed products that are intended to be used in specific school environments. Here are some of the markets SIS products target.

Large K-12 schools or school districts — More robust SIS systems can scale to handle the data needs of large institutions, managing data on potentially thousands of teachers and students. These systems often offer a variety of modules that manage functions for each of the departments that help keep larger schools running.

Small or independent schools — While some SIS systems can scale to manage either large or small institutions, other products are marketed specifically to smaller schools, independent schools, or charter schools. Often, these systems are customizable so they can be configured according to a small institution’s specific needs.

Private schools or parochial schools — These SIS products often incorporate functionality that is more commonly utilized by tuition-based private schools, managing tasks such as recruiting students, processing applications, and collecting tuition payments. Some also include tools to manage scholarships financial aid for students. For schools with ties to a religious institution, the software may integrate with church managementsoftware.

K-12 Student Information Systems Features

Admissions — Administrators can communicate with prospective students, accept applications, make admissions decisions, and eventually enroll students in classes using admissions functions in SIS platforms.

Student data management — At the heart of every K-12 SIS is its ability to gather and manage large amounts of student data, such as demographic information, home addresses, emergency contact numbers, standardized test scores, special education accommodations, and medical history.

Attendance — Teachers can electronically record which students are present, tardy, and absent, allowing parents to view that information remotely and get automated alerts if their child is marked absent.

Behavior management and discipline — For students who run afoul of the school’s code of conduct, administrators and disciplinarians can record details about the incident, which can be communicated to parents or saved for future reference.

Scheduling — Creating a master schedule is a complex endeavor involving thousands of potential combinations of classes, teachers, and students. Built-in scheduling tools automate that process, helping administrators avoid double-booking rooms or teachers and ensuring students take the classes that meet their needs and interests. Administrators can customize class names, set graduation requirements, and modify grade scales.

Gradebook — Recording student grades is an essential function of an SIS. Gradebook tools allow teachers to create assignments, enter scores, and print a variety of reports. In addition to gradebooks that offer the traditional A-F grading scale, some SIS products offer standards-based grading, in which students are assessed on their proficiency on certain target skills rather than assigned letter grades or percentages. Some gradebooks also have a database of state or national standards that educators can attach to certain assignments or assessments to make it easier to analyze results or report scores to education agencies.

Curriculum management — Sharing lesson plans or entire course curriculums is possible in SIS systems with built-in curriculum management features. These tools are also found in stand-alone curriculum managmentsoftware.

Learning Management System — Some SIS products have an integrated LMS, giving teachers the ability to send digital assignments and assessments to students. Using an LMS, teachers can track student activity and communicate with students about the assignments.

Student and parent portals — K-12 Student Information Systems provide online portals where students can log in to check their grades, review attendance records, message their teachers, or get other information. Parents have a similar portal that allows them to keep tabs on their child’s performance at school.

Fee management — To make paying student fees easier, many SIS products have built-in tools that automate billing and allow parents or students to pay those fees online.

Mobile apps — An app built for an SIS allows students and parents to more easily accomplish tasks they would otherwise be able to do in a web browser via the SIS portal, such as check grades or message a teacher.

Report generation — Because SIS systems manage large volumes of student data, the ability to run reports on a variety of indicators is a crucial function. Some of the most common data pulls administrators use are generating progress reports, report cards, or transcripts to communicate the grades that a student earned in a given term. Teachers or administrators can pull up assessment results and compare student performance across different time periods, demographics, or classes. School districts are required to report certain information about students and their performance to local, state, and federal education agencies, so having the ability to automatically generate reports that meet those compliance requirements can be a huge time-saver.

Assessment — Built-in assessment features allow teachers to create customized quizzes or tests, administer them digitally to students, and analyze the results.

Mass notifications — SIS systems often have integrated mass notification features, allowing administrators to quickly contact students or parents via email or text message.

Student services modules — Some non-academic staff members of schools, such as the school nurse or food service workers, use SIS software modules that specifically assist with those job functions. Integrating these functions helps ensure that student data is accurate and saves staff from having to enter the same information multiple times into different systems, reducing the potential for errors.

Trends Related to K-12 Student Information Systems

Integrations and APIs — Even though Student Information Systems accomplish a wide range of day-to-day tasks, they often don’t cover some aspects of a school’s operations. For that reason, it is becoming increasingly important for SIS developers to build in robust integrations with other software products to facilitate data sharing with other systems. Sometimes those integrations are with other products offered by the same vendor, while other times the product integrates with other software vendors that offer products to manage accounting, email marketing, classroom messaging, or transportation, among other responsibilities.

Mobile access — With the ubiquity of mobile devices in modern life, it is even more essential that Student Information Systems are compatible with those devices and have dedicated mobile apps that are available to the school community. Mobile apps allow parents and students to more easily access the information they need about the student’s grades, assignments, attendance, or behavior. Messaging functions also make it simple to get in touch with a child’s teacher and allow teachers to keep those messages in a centralized place. Having key student information available with only a couple taps on a phone or tablet screen makes it more likely that students and parents will be engaged and up-to-date on the child’s progress so everyone knows what the child is doing well and where they need help.

Potential Issues with K-12 Student Information Systems

Data privacy and security — Cybersecurity attacks have been increasingly targeting schools in recent years, underscoring the importance of protecting the large volumes of sensitive personal data that Student Information Systems harbor. Between 2016 and early 2020, there were at least 770 cybersecurity-related incidents involving K-12 schools, according to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, which tracks such incidents. The actual number is likely even higher, because that total only includes incidents that were publicly disclosed. Hackers have frequently targeted schools with ransomware attacks, breaking into the school’s systems and refusing to unlock the data unless the district pays the hacker a ransom. Such attacks can be crippling for institutions that rely on Student Information Systems to accomplish daily tasks, and at times ransomware attacks have forced school districts to close until the situation is resolved. When purchasing a Student Information System, administrators must ask hard questions about how the data they store on such systems will be protected from cyberattacks. If the data is stored on-premises, the institution’s IT staff must build in sufficient protections to avoid being the next victim of a K-12 cybersecurity attack.

Cost — Smaller institutions, such as an independent private school or charter school, have many of the same day-to-day needs as schools in larger districts, but may not have the resources to buy an SIS from one of the larger vendors. Vendors often charge a fee that varies depending on the number of students the school serves. Some products cater specifically to smaller institutions who may not be able to afford a product from a larger vendor.

Lack of integrations — While some Student Information Systems integrate with hundreds of other software products, others may not offer the same level of interoperability. Administrators who are considering purchasing an SIS should carefully research its integrations to ensure it is compatible with software they already use or are planning to use alongside the SIS. If the SIS doesn’t integrate well with other software, that could mean having to enter the same data multiple times in different systems, or school departments having multiple sets of different data if the records aren’t maintained in a single system. To avoid headaches down the road, integrations are key to establish in the beginning.

Software and Services Related to K-12 Student Information Systems

Education ERP suites — Many Student Information System vendors have an accompanying ERP product, which handles “back-office” business functions like finance and accounting or human resources. Adding an integrated ERP suite to an SIS provides K-12 institutions with a seamless way to manage both student data and school resources in a single system.

School Transportation Software — SIS systems may integrate with school transportation software products, allowing administrators to manage bus routes and ensure kids get from home to school and back safely. Integrating those systems means important information for transportation planning, like student names and home addresses, can be easily shared between the systems.

Special Education Software — Schools need a way to manage legally mandated records for students with special needs, including Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans. If the SIS doesn’t have a way to manage those records, there are a number of software products specifically designed to help special education teachers and case managers ensure they are meeting students’ needs.

Higher Education SIS — While similar in functionality in many ways to K-12 SIS systems, an SIS built for higher education will have features that help campus administrators manage processes that are more common at the college or university level. These systems often connect a variety of campus departments, including admissions, financial aid, student housing, and academic advising.

Hawai‘i Department of Education Student Privacy Policies and Processes

The DOE website includes this information on Student Privacy. At the bottom is a link to the full page with more language resources.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that gives parents certain protections with regard to their children’s education records, such as report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules. As a parent, you have the right to review your child’s education records and to request changes under limited circumstances.