Home > Uncategorized > Time to reboot eSchoolPLUS: Part 1

Time to reboot eSchoolPLUS: Part 1

January 25, 2012

Part 1 of a three-part series on eSchoolPLUS in Delaware.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Download all

Background
In 2004 Delaware schools were operating with a mix of legacy information systems, which made reporting information difficult. And as the new No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program was beginning to take effect with its new reporting requirements, something had to be done. So the Delaware Department of Education introduced a new statewide computer system called eSchoolPLUS. According to a 2004 article in District Administration magazine:

… the district is replacing its legacy UNIX-based student information system this year with SunGard Pentamation’s .eSchoolPLUS, a .NET-connected, Web-based student administration software solution from SunGard Pentamation that provides Delaware’s 19 school districts with all of the applications they require to manage student data and meet reporting needs, including student registration, scheduling, attendance, grading, discipline, and medical records.

In the years since, eSchoolPLUS has been successful in providing new reporting power essential for meeting new Federal and State regulatory requirements, especially those tied to funding.

But now is not time for Delaware to rest on its laurels. It is now time to roll out the additional powerful features of eSchoolPLUS which we have paid for and installed, but so far are not using. We’ve got the regulatory reporting under control – now let’s learn how to use the additional features designed to promote parent involvement and student success. The technology is in place, but policies and practices for using that technology are lagging behind.

(click on the jump for more)

Note: There is no intent here to promote eSchoolPLUS over any other system. eSchoolPLUS is one of a handful of popular student information systems that all provide similar features.

Home Access Center is a tool for parent involvement – isn’t that what we want?
Parents may be familiar with the Home Access Center (HAC) module of eSchoolPLUS, which so far has been used simply to post grades and attendance data for parents to view online. In 2004, that capability was still somewhat novel, and represented a welcome advance in school-home communication.

But for parents, that is where Delaware’s implementation stopped – grades and attendance data. For the most part, schools are choosing to use the system as a retrospective tool only, and are not taking advantage of its ability to communicate events in the future. There are policies requiring teachers to enter grades after they are due, but no policies governing how to communicate assignments before they are due.

A decade or more ago, parents had to wait for conferences or report cards to find out how their child was doing a month or more ago. Now with HAC, that gap has been narrowed to a week or so. In other words, we are great at telling you what your child did last week, but not so good at telling you what your child needs to do tonight or later this week. But that is the single most valuable type of information for parent involvement. We talk about monitoring a student’s “progress,” but we also need to be pro-active – to monitor their future as well as their past.

What most parents (and many educators) don’t know is that HAC also offers powerful pro-active communication features to promote parent engagement, and to support students in keeping track of their work. Those communication features include:

  • Posting assignments and tests in advance. It’s great to look up grades online after the assignment is due. But to really be useful, the information needs to be posted BEFORE the due date, rather than days later. That way, parents can become engaged in helping with the work, or reminding their child to do it, instead of reacting to a grade after it is too late.
  • Attaching documents. If they choose, teachers can attach documents to assignments in HAC just as easily as attaching a document to an email. Handouts, instructions, resources – all that easily-lost paper should be attached to the assignment it belongs to, available to be downloaded by parents or students at any time. No student should ever miss completing an assignment simply because the printed instructions or resources are missing or unavailable.
  • Attaching teacher notes. Often the title of an assignment alone is not sufficient to describe the assignment or the teacher’s expectations. Fortunately, a pop-up notes feature allows teachers to enter additional information about the assignment, which parents and students may view in HAC. This notes feature (along with the document attachment feature) should be used frequently to clarify the short titles, or to communicate additional instructions or resources for the assignment.

Getting parents engaged with their child’s schoolwork has been shown to be the most effective type of parent involvement, according to one report. Timely and accurate information about assignments is a key enabler for parents and students to become engaged with schoolwork.

How did the communication features get left behind?
The eSchoolPLUS technology was acquired in 2004 to meet an urgent and specific need for updated reporting capability, in order to meet new requirements and fully capture available funding. But in the effort to meet those needs, the additional communication features were overlooked, and were not emphasized by the State. As a result of lack of emphasis during the initial rollout of eSchoolPLUS, the additional communication features were not built into the culture of the districts and the schools, and remain largely unknown and little-used.

The vendor (SunGard) markets the technology as a solution for meeting State and Federal reporting requirements. While SunGard does promote the ability for parents to retroactively view grades and attendance, the pro-active notification and document sharing features are not noted in its marketing material or user guides. This attitude is mirrored in the way Delaware districts present eSchoolPLUS to its teachers and parents.

Responsibility for training and supporting teachers on eSchoolPLUS was given to district instructional technologists, where it became just one of many systems they were responsible for training and supporting teachers on, with more systems coming out each year. Many teachers say they have not received training, and don’t know how to access training materials or support.

Many district administrators left the classroom before eSchoolPLUS was implemented in their schools, and do not have first-hand experience with its capabilities. There are long-standing policies and expectations in place for students and parents to make sure homework and classwork gets done. But there are few if any policies in place for properly communicating what that work is. The critical process of communicating and distributing daily assignments is untouched by any policy, guidelines, or governance.

Next in Part 2:
Who is using HAC?
Homework completion rate (and classwork, too)
Performance data straight from the classroom – go get it!

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