Using E-rate funds to enhance school networks | eSchool News
— Read on www.eschoolnews.com/pdfs/using-e-rate-funds-to-enhance-school-networks/
Using E-rate funds to enhance school networks | eSchool News
This chart shows current systems, functions and features in the current multi-part configuration. Elements that we believe the Hawai‘i Department of Education is currently using are in red.
Given ongoing changes due to the pandemic, and because the specifics of district systems are difficult to derive, we cannot be sure if the Hawai‘i DOE may gave implemented some of the suggestions indicated here.
Communication – multiple one way channels– district and school websites, newsletters, emails, texts, phone, social media delivering policy, processes and changes are potentially confusing and obscure to teachers, students, and families.
Instructional Model – Face to Face, Virtual, or Blended learning– Synchronous, Asynchronous, define the chosen models.
Instructional Content – District-defined, teacher- created content, external core and supplemental content offer a wide range of opportunities for diverse student needs.
Learning Management System – A District level learning management system enables efficient delivery of learning and assessment, leverages content, delivers analysis. Classroom learning management offers teacher control but may not enable aggregated data or leveraging of resources.
Special Education System – Development of IEPs and learning tools to support special needs are supported in these systems.
Student Information System – District class scheduling, student demographics, cafeteria, bus, technology resource management are provided by the SIS.
Assessment Management – teacher-created, district, and external formative, interim, and summative tests may be managed in a separate system or a module of the SIS or LMS.
- TimeLine of Learning Technologies 1436-2020
- Compare School-based, Distance Learning, Blended Learning
- Learning Elements of Our Digital World
- The Complexity of Today’s K-12 Learning Systems
- Simplifying and Integrating Learning Systems
First, let’s talk about the point of education and the capability of today’s learning management systems to support that process.
Children enter our world loving to learn. It is our job to support that love of learning and to remove obstacles. Each child should have an education of equity and excellence. Each child needs to be supported, seen, heard, and valued. When they are seen by teachers, parents, mentors, and peers, they can see their own unique gifts. In this way they can develop their abilities and contribute to the community. The ability to contribute brings happiness, satisfaction, and financial stability. All of this nurtures our community to flourish in peace.
We have not been doing so well in meeting those objectives. Frequent testing interrupts learning and brings many students anxiety and shame. Our very testing to ensure that they not be “left behind” can be an obstacle. We need common, advanced, effective, simple-to-use systems that let our teachers reach each child individually so the magic of learning and happiness can emerge.
Parents for Public Schools of Hawaii began 11 years ago, and I have served on the board since its founding, usually leading communications for the group. When we ask parents what they love about our schools they almost always smile and say “the teachers”. When we ask them what distresses them the most about our schools, the answer is usually accompanied by visible discomfort as they say “testing”. Parents often explain that their children are anxious during testing times, come home upset, and do not want to go to school. Some kids love tests, but the ones who do not love tests are often hurt and discouraged by them.
How can we help all of our students and ensure that school is a productive enjoyable place to be so that they continue to love learning?
Over the past two decades, many of us have worked to leverage technology, and its related partner, assessment, to increase engagement, effectiveness, personalization, and equity. It has been a tough and frustrating struggle. Overworked administrators have frequently balked at trying new approaches. Or, if they have chosen innovative systems or tools, often they have been unable to invest adequately in teacher professional development, planning time, bandwidth or devices needed to be successful.
So it is with mixed feelings that we, who have been carefully crafting tools, see this this pandemic-driven rush to virtual learning. Many districts are using old systems or not using systems at all, perhaps not knowing that there are better options. Other districts do not understand the importance of interoperability (systems working together) or integration (systems actually married to deliver results.) In some districts, schools are left to decide whether to use learning management system at all or to pick their own. This creates inefficiency, wasted money, an inability to gather district-wide detailed learning data, and frustration by parents in dealing with multiple systems in different schools. While the schools and teachers should be seeking empowerment and freedom to localize content and instructional approach, energy and time are wasted when each school makes decisions on systems that should be district-wide.
We do not just need these systems because of the pandemic. Districts and schools would have benefitted from using learning management systems effectively for years. Effective implementation of integrated systems protects our student’s time and success, our teacher’s time and success, and delivers ease of information to our families. This work can save money, make teaching more enjoyable retaining more of our great experienced teachers.
Now, in this pandemic, we realize we need virtual learning and that we need systems to manage and deliver that learning. We need these systems for this emergency, but we also need these systems for the pre-existing non-pandemic emergencies and the post-pandemic critical requirements of 21st century careers and families.
No business would let different departments choose different management systems when they have objectives that must be met. We have learning objectives for each child that must be met. Each child must be supported to realize their own unique gifts. We cannot waste time or funds in setting up rival management systems. Great freedom and creativity can be wielded if all accept the best state of the art interoperable systems now. Then we can innovate, individualize, and localize those systems.
So what are all these systems and tools that need to be coordinated? I will describe the main types with some examples below. I will note what the District/State of Hawai‘i is using now, and what I think the district should consider.
Student Information Systems (SIS) — enable enrollment, finance, school buses, cafeterias, class scheduling, grades– and some deliver special education IEPs and manage assessments, Community (family/teacher/student) Portal, etc. (Some of the leading student information systems are PowerSchool, Grade Link, Infinite Campus, Skyward, QuickSchools, Alma, and Focus)
— The Hawai‘i DOE uses Infinite Campus which has many functionalities– some of which may not be fully used at this time.
— I think HI DOE could continue to use Infinite Campus, seeing if it can get more performance and value from it. But it may want to move to PowerSchool or another provider after the current emergencies.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) — class set up, instructional plans, lessons, grades, classroom and teacher to home communications, etc. (Examples are Canvas, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Google Classroom, Edmodo, Atlas, Schoology)
— Some schools within the HI DOE have used Blackboard Learn (Bb) for professional development and some classroom use. So now, in response to the pandemic, the HI DOE is offering the Blackboard Learn LMS to schools who wish it. We understand from the DOE that this is an interim decision as a team with members from the Information and Instruction departments. Bb was founded to serve universities, later developing K12- versions. However, elementary schools do not use Bb and Bb is not seen as desirable for middle school students or even many high school students. It is regrettable that teachers will spend time learning the Bb system, when we hope they will soon move to a more appropriate LMS.
Meanwhile, many teachers have begun using Google Classroom for their classes even though they have to enter student information themselves. (I have just heard that the district is populating the Google Classrooms for the teachers, that they were going to integrate the classroom content into the current district SIS, Infinite Campus. Then I heard that plan has been changed and there will be no integration this year.) These rumors and changes are an example of the confusion many parents and teachers describe.
It is good that the DOE has acquired gmail accounts for all students so that they can use Google Classroom (and other benefits.) As of this writing, Google Classroom is not a full LMS, however, Google has been continuously expanding their education applications. Google Classroom is needed by the HI teachers now, since Bb does not provide the same easy student interface or support teacher elementary level lesson creation. In a few years, our Hawai‘i schools might be able to manage learning through free Google applications, but we are not there yet.
Since many other apps/software need to be integrated with the LMS, using Schoology’s LMS (which was bought in 2019 by the leading SIS provider, PowerSchool) makes sense. Schoology has easy to use standards-based learning tracking as well as grading, rubric support for project-based learning, and is more interoperable than other LMS’s. It is IMS Global certified and LTI and QTI compliant. It is automatically integrated with Google Drive, YouTube, Ck12, Khan Academy and other useful apps. Should the district decide to move off Infinite Campus, it would be easy to use Schoology with its parent company SIS, PowerSchool. Perhaps the HI DOE should consider moving to Schoology or Canvas to avoid wasted transitional training on Blackboard Learn.
Special Education Management Systems— manage, generate, track IEPs (Individual Education Plans) such as EdPlan, SpedTrak, Frontline, PowerSchool Special Programs, and eCSSS. The HI DOE uses the eCSSS system which was reviewed in the 2018 Special Education Task Force Report concluding that a replacement tool for eCSSS should be adopted. The PowerSchool “Unified Classrooms Special Programs” appears to be an easy to use manager for IEPs, 504, ELL, Gifted, RTI, and more all translated into over 60 languages. The HI DOE could consider the PowerSchool Special Programs manager application.
Virtual Learning Tools — Synchronous video conferencing: (Webex, Zoom, GoToWebinar, MS Teams, Google Meet, etc.)
Currently, the HI DOE uses Webex. I do not know if teachers are finding it easy to use Webex. The BOE uses Webex without video for its meetings and the lack of video reduces the effectiveness of the meetings. Zoom has an expansion license that enables 1000 synchronous video users. If Webex has the same, it should be used. If not, Zoom should be considered. Zoom is easily integrated into Schoology. Adobe Connect is another highly scalable video conferencing alternative. The HI DOE should have easy to use synchronous and asynchronous video conferencing for teacher, admin and BOE use.
School Community Family Teacher Student Portal — Portals enable districts to reach teachers, students, and families with essential messages and to give dashboards to each user that gives them access to the appropriate student and learning information. Most SISs have portals and there are standalone portals. Infinite Campus offers a portal which is used by the HI DOE. However, from our PPS-Hawai‘i survey, it seems few families use it. The HI DOE website does not clearly feature it. Each school has their own website. Families seem to get lost between the messages on the HI DOE website, their school website, emails, and texts. The HI DOE website site map shows no pages under “G” for Guardian, no information under “F” for Families, and under “P” for Parents, few resources show up and no referral to a Parent Portal is made.
Despite district website, newsletters, flyers, and video interviews, in addition to school websites, principal and teacher communications, the district does not seem to be succeeding in communicating effectively with families. I hope that HI DOE redesigns its communications strategy using the existing SIS Infinite Campus (or PowerSchool’s or another provider’s Unified Portal). One simplified portal could provide two way communication to all parties. School websites could be connected– but the portal should be the easiest, clearest, simplest link to each student’s educational experience– for teachers, students and families.
To summarize my current thinking on Hawai‘i learning and education management systems:
Learning and education management applications have been developing quickly. Some SIS and LMS systems have been shuttered. It is appropriate to reevaluate existing systems given breakthrough new idea and solutions to old problems.
Guiding principles, systems should be:
1) Easy for teachers to use so that teaching time and flow is not interrupted and they are not frustrated learning codes or rules.
2) Engaging to students with a user interface they can relate to, delivering interactive, synchronous, asynchronous media and tracking learning in a way that is encouraging and motivational to them.
3) Effective solutions for special programs — SPED, RTI, Gifted, ELL — maximizing quality data and faculty attention to students – not record keeping.
4) “Interoperable”— meaning that systems can easily connect, sharing data through APIs, with other applications.
5) Inclusive of families, students and teachers— bringing easy, clear two way communication to all — linked to the instructional access and student progress details.
This summer, the HI DOE offered “Blackboard Learn” LMS to all schools- but made it optional. Blackboard Learn is widely known not to serve elementary or middle school students well. Investing teacher time on learning it now may be wasteful. We should rush to find the best LMS solution, preferably integrated with the SIS. Schoology appears to be a better LMS solution than Blackboard Learn or Google Classroom. We should develop an integrated SIS/LMS solution and train teachers to use it now. That will satisfy #1 and #2.
We should see if Infinite campus can provide solutions for SPED and if its portal, the HI DOE website, and communications strategies can be redesigned to better include two way communication with families and students. Infinite Campus interoperability should be analyzed. If Infinite Campus cannot meet these #2, 3, 4 needs, HI DOE should consider moving to PowerSchool or another SIS.
Q’s for the HIBOE and DOE: How Can We Be Sure Our Students Are Present for Learning? How Can Our Students Feel “Seen” and Valued?
If students do part of their learning online, how can we be sure they are there (in the virtual classroom or engaged in assignments) to learn?
If students are “present” at the beginning of a class, how can we be sure they are there at the end?
If teachers have to enter student data to several systems and are not trained in the new systems they need for virtual learning, how can we be sure they will be able to encounter each student, to provide the critical encouragement and insight needed for social-emotional health as well as learning?
The crisis is real, serious, and it continues. Our keiki’s welfare is at stake just as the careers of our teachers and the welfare of our businesses and general society. But if children fail to get the attention and guidance and warmth they need now and over a 6-12 month period, some will not recover.
We know that our Hawai‘i Department of Education, including district and complex area staff, as well as our heroic teachers, have worked hard to handle the unforeseen crises during this pandemic. Big changes have been required and no doubt folks are working around the clock. However, student engagement has been very very low. Not only are our keiki in danger of losing academic progress, sometimes with very serious negative effects, but many students are not getting sufficient contact with teachers, staff, or other students. Until now, unless a school was an online school, attendance records have largely been kept by teachers and reported to the school and district SIS (Student Information System).
During the spring pandemic learning period, enrichment only activities were provided online or through paper packets. Student engagement was low and modes of delivery and amounts of communication between teachers and students and teachers and families varied greatly. Parents were concerned that since students knew these activities were “just enrichment” many were not motivated to participate. Not all students had access to Internet connectivity, devices, or to a device appropriate to their grade level or instructional needs. These conclusions were provided via our Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i pandemic engagement survey and were supported by the HI DOE’s Panorama Surveys of Teachers and Students. (The Family Survey has not been released by today’s date, though we have heard that principals have the results to take into consideration in their determination of school model.)
The HI DOE is offering three models of instruction for local schools to choose, two of the three will include online learning. Here are some of the questions that occur to us:
How will students be engaged in their online learning?
How will student engagement be “seen” by teachers in time to make a difference?
What tools will teachers have to boost engagement?
How can teachers quickly and easily “see” the level and extent of student engagement?
What part does “attendance” play in education engagement?
How can we be sure that each student is “seen” and knows they have been “seen” by teachers or staff each day?
The Hawai‘i DOE uses the Infinite Campus SIS (Student Information System). Infinite Campus has developed COVID-19 services including attendance work-arounds. Will the HI DOE mandate the usage of assignment-based attendance added to standard Infinite Campus attendance?
Infinite Campus COVID-19 Workflow here (steps to use assignments to track attendance)
Infinite Campus COVID-19 Guide here (includes video on Assignment-based Attendance)
Infinite Campus COVID-19 Resources
Infinite Campus Video on How to Develop New Attendance Codes, How to Allow this Alongside the Standard District Attendance System. These codes must be determined at the DISTRICT LEVEL to work.
Is HIDOE amending Infinite Campus SIS usage and providing training to take advantage of IC new automated assignment-based attendance?
Is HIDOE looking into other biometric and assignment driven attendance systems?
LMS (Learning Management Systems) and SISs have advanced since HIDOE chose Infinite Campus.
Recently the district has offered Blackboard Learn LMS to schools at their discretion– since Blackboard was the most commonly used full LMS. I understand the district knows that Blackboard is not an LMS of choice for K12 schools, designed as it was, for higher ed. It has been used effectively for teacher professional development in Hawai‘i and elsewhere. But it is not well designed for K12 student engagement. I understand this is a temporary measure.
The district has set up gmail accounts for all teachers and students and this is a good move as it enables much. And Google Classroom can now be used by all teachers. But Google Classroom is not a full LMS.
Families have found it difficult to find information, to understand how their students are progressing. The portal aspect of Infinite Campus does not appear to be working well. HIDOE has set up several websites, held Facebook video chats, posted Vimeo video updates. But the communications is disjointed and complicated.
The use of Panorama to survey teachers and students was wise given the difficulty the district has had in getting feedback. The response rate was very high for teachers, not high for students. Further the district did not begin the family survey in time to publicize the results enabling school community members to take that into account in choosing fall school models. Principals have the results, but families do not. The Family survey should have been given more priority and been administered earlier given the district’s timeline for fall determinations.
A new integrated system of LMS/SIS/SPED/Assessment management systems should be designed and implemented. Hawai‘i is in a favorable position, the only state that is one district, and could create and deliver the infrastructure all schools, teachers, students, and families need to be in easy to access, continuous, student achievement-informed communication. I was encouraged to hear from Interim Asst. Superintendent Alisa Bender, that a team is working on this.
Could you please tell us the intent and the status of a full evaluation, design, implementation of an up-to-date integrated LMS/SIS/SPED/Assessment instructional and student management system?
We need this critically to support engaged learning, family, student, teacher communication, and district analysis and continuous improvement. We can lead the nation if we persist and do this right.
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.
From G2.com: 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.
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.(more…)
The classroom connectivity gap is largely closed as shown in this 2019 report. The Hawai‘i Connectivity Snapshot (clickable image below) shows the status of Hawai‘i public school connectivity. Now, as virtual learning to homes is needed, we need to work on hot spots, connections from vendors, and devices for students at home to enable equitable virtual learning access.