Student Information Systems (SIS) are critical technologies for educational organizations primarily due to their ability to provide instant access to data. SIS are mainly used to house demographic data such as attendance, discipline referrals, and enrollment information – “a well-designed student information system enables school personnel to study important measures of student engagement, such as attendance, discipline, and suspensions, and to fully analyze problems before attempting a solution” (Bernhardt, 2005, p.2). With information provided by SIS, schools can carefully analyze trends specific to their population and then purposefully plan to address them, rather than implementing generic action plans.
If the primary responsibility of a school leader is to improve student achievement, I was most excited about Instructional Management Systems which
· Provide standards-based lesson plans and resources to help students and teachers raise test scores;
· Help teachers align classroom curriculum to content standards; and
· Help teachers align curriculum between grades (Bernhardt, 2005, p.3).
This type of SIS is extremely important in better enabling teachers to tailor instruction to the learning needs of their students and to track progress towards mastery. Yet, “student data… are an untapped resource in helping educators diagnose student learning needs” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006, p. 1). The most common reason for this is that often systems are implemented without the proper professional development for school leaders and teachers. Teachers need support in analyzing data and require the professional development and that will allow them to effectively use data to inform classroom practice.
SIS also play a major role in helping to establish the home-school connection that is often missing in schools. Parents have instant access to their children’s performance and can remain abreast of progress. However, these systems can replace personalized contact with families. Schools, such as my own, expect parents to check grades from home and therefore teachers rarely reach out to personally connect with families. For me, establishing a personal connection with parents and families is still important in supporting students in reaching their full potentials. Though we are living in a digital age, we must also remember that not everyone has Internet access and a smart phone. Therefore, educators must establish other ways to stay connected with home. SIS systems can also be motivating for students who track their own progress. Teacher must also, however, personally provide specific and personalized feedback to students as a plan for improvement. For example, seeing a “C-” in the SIS system, does not detail a plan for improvement.
In reviewing the SIS vendor products, I was impressed by all that is offered and definitely saw the benefit for schools. Many of the features overlapped. While it really should boil down to the specific needs of the district and teachers in deciding on SIS systems, I know that for many districts, SIS decisions can also be related to cost. Though Bernhardt (2005) warns against automatically going with the lowest bidder, I am curious about how often less affluent districts sacrifice quality and what they really need the product to do in the name of cost effectiveness.
I am biased towards PowerSchool since that is what my district has been using for a few years now. It is relatively simple to navigate and has made my life, as a teacher must simpler. I do with, however, that teachers were given real PD on how to use it, rather than a manual that we were expected to read and understand mostly on our own. For example, there are some teachers using power school in district who have standards-aligned grade books while others of us were never shown how to do this. Overall, no matter what the product promises to do, teachers and schools will never reap full benefits of SIS systems without proper training and support.
Bernhardt, V. L. & Stringfield, S. (2005). Data Tools for School Improvement. Educational Leadership, 62(5), 66-69. Retrieved from http://eff.csuchico.edu/downloads/DataTools.pdf
Centre/SIS. Learners Circle. Retrieved from http://centresis.org/.
Harris School Solutions. Retrieved from http://www.harrisschoolsolutions.com/.
Halverson, R., Grigg, J, Pritchett, R., Thomas, C. (2006). The new instructional leadership: Creating data-driven instructional systems in schools. Retrieved from http://www.cew.wisc.edu/docs/resource_collections/HalversonEtAl_TheNewInstructionalLeadership.pdf
PowerSchool: Always Learning. (2015). Pearson Education, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.pearsonschoolsystems.com/products/powerschool/.
RenWeb: Powering school systems online. Retrieved from http://www.renweb.com/.
Wayman, J. C. (2006, August). Technology-Support involvement of entire faculties in examination of student data for instructional improvement. American Journal of Education, 112. Retrieved from http://edadmin.edb.utexas.edu/datause/papers/Wayman-Stringfield-Faculty-Data-Use.pdfM