Teachers, students, and parents in the territory will be entering the brave new world of online classroom feedback for the 2012-2013 school year, with the launch of a new student information system called PowerSchool, thanks to federal funding for the V.I. Department of Education.
The web-based portal works like this: teachers input grades, attendance, and any relevant comments into the system on a daily basis, and students (or parents) sign into the portal online to see how they are performing.
And yes, it will all be streaming in real-time.
“This affects every single student and every single teacher,” St. Croix Superintendent Gary Malloy said Wednesday at a meeting held at the district’s Curriculum Center.
“This system does a host of things for us, and it’s critical that we learn to use as much of it as we can,” Malloy said.
The Department put approximately $1.3 million in federal funding toward the new system, offered by Pearson Inc., which is a popular school information management tool around the nation and world. According to their website, they support nearly 10 million students across 50 states and 65 countries.
Rae Ann Cook, a project manager for Pearson, told stakeholders at the meeting that, in addition to grades and attendance, the system will allow parents to email teachers with questions, which often creates a collaborative environment between teacher and parent.
“In my experience, it really has made the teacher’s communication with the parent more meaningful, and it’s made the communication more effective,” Cook said.
Randolph Thomas, Director of the Department’s Planning, Research and Evaluation Division, agreed. He said that the system might even spark debate between parents and teachers as to why one school or teacher isn’t following the protocol of the new system.
“One parent might want to know why a certain school has extra resources – it will drive implementation,” Thomas said. “It’s a great accountability tool.”
For example, if a teacher decides not to implement an assignment, the assignment cannot be used in the final grade, Cook said. Likewise, if a teacher decides to mark students as “present” when the parent knows they in fact stayed home, it will force communication.
This sparked debate, particularly when Thomas mentioned that St. Thomas/St. John District would be marking all students “absent” as a default setting to force teachers to be held accountable for updating changes. Apparently, there is a problem with teachers marking students incorrectly.
“We have some serious problems with attendance and so we need this serious culture change,” Thomas said. “We have schools that will mark students 100% present, when it’s the end of the school year or during Festival in April.”
Malloy didn’t think the problem was as bad on St. Croix, but agreed that the Department needed to be cautious.
“We need to make sure it is made consistent, and the teachers are held accountable,” Malloy said. “In order to get accurate data, we must have accountability, and might need to set certain defaults to do so.
The new system will replace the district’s current student information system, SASI, which was implemented during the 2004-2005 school year, and recently became obsolete because the contractor no longer offers technical support.
“We wanted to upgrade what we had with a system that was web-based and centralized – meaning that it is able to be controlled from one spot, ensuring oversight over the data elements,” Thomas said.
Access to real time data will ultimately help the Department comply with both local and federal reporting requirements, build policy, and create new programs and initiatives, Thomas added.
In addition to PowerSchool, the Department also recently rolled out a new software system called Docufide, a product of Parchment Inc., which allows students to order copies of their transcripts online, and to have it delivered to any destination in the world.
“This is definitely a national movement where schools and institutions of higher learning are sending out information more quickly,” Thomas said. “Now, our students and administrators do not have to worry about sending the transcripts out in the mail, which saves both time and money.”