District Information Management

From Within the Pandemic, Hawai‘i Seeks a New State Education Superintendent

The pandemic has been hard on all schools, districts, teachers, students, and families. And it has posed intense challenges for Superintendents. Relations between Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Hawai‘i teachers, and finally the Board of Education made her choice not to pursue a new term a graceful exit.

After years of resistance to implementing technology and systems in learning, the pandemic forced it. Now we need leadership to uplift teachers, transform learning by implementing technology in more measured and creative ways, and create the family engagement and community integration that can surround our students with support.

Honolulu Star Advertiser article announcing Dr. Kishimoto’s decision not to pursue another term (I am quoted)

Memo from the Hawai‘i Board of Education on the selection of the next Superintendent.

Honolulu Civil Beat article on the hiring timeline for permanent and Interim superintendents. (I am quoted)

Learning Elements of Our Digital World

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.

How Should We Learn & Teach Now and What Tools Can Help Most?

See also:

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.

SIS PowerSchool Attendance Handbook
SIS Fedena Online and Biometric Attendance Systems
Pandemic Planning for Distance Learning PreK-12 — from New America