Tag Archives: PowerSchool

Stop the Downturn: Data for Student Support

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

For many years I have been involved in student support planning. As an EdTech professional, I am heavily involved in managing and using student data. Student assessment data is normally used to make lists of students that need support.

The ideal scenario, is that students get the help they need BEFORE the grade falls below the recovery level. There is normally a point in the term where the grade cannot be recovered. The mean will be too low. If the school uses a few final exams to determine the final grade, the situation is even more dire for students who have early downturns.

Here are some recommendations for making certain that you are using student data correctly, and promptly, to support those who are beginning to have unfavorable results.

Set the Bar High

I start my trend analysis at the C+ level, or “average”, level. I look for students who have a C+, and see if they had a C+ the week before. This can be done fairly quickly in a spreadsheet with live data sets.

Students who have moved from a C+ to a C, a C- to a D, etc., would all need a weekly review.

This seems tedious, but I firmly believe interventions need to happen as early as possible in the process.

Do not Assume Students are Lazy

I am often guilty of assuming a student is simply not trying hard enough, or not paying attention. I think this is a very common initial reaction to falling grades.

Every student deserves to have the benefit of the doubt. Take the time to look at least 1-2 weeks back in the grading. Look for courses they are not struggling in, and see how the assessments differ.

Most importantly, take time to engage the student. Ask them about the situation, and listen for clues. Many times teenagers seems cagey, but they simply may not be able to articulate the problem.

Check the Class Average

Class averages often hold insight into student issues. If you have a class, and the average is 80%, and the grade distribution is on a normal curve, then prepare to have many students struggling.

That bottom group of students is going to be fighting all term for a low B or high C (80%-76%). This does not mean they need extra support, but it does mean that they need to be using their time very efficiently. The margin for error, and laziness, is very low.

Also, do not jump to make the class easier. Some topics are tough, and they should be.

Convert Standards Grades to Numbers

This is an internal process. Students and parents will not see the conversion. This is not about creating a 100 point scale. This is simply a better way for administrators to quickly review data. You can use any scale you wish.

If you have only three standard’s indicators, and you are only grading against four standards, you would generate 12 data points, per student, per assessment. That is 216 data points per 18 students, per assignment.

Assigning numbers to letters, using a simple find-and-replace function, would make it possible to run common mathematical analysis.

Require Regular Comments

End of term comments are nice, but they are useless for a true support intervention process. Teachers need to be required to tag assignments at the student level when those assignments indicate a downturn.

Many administrators are often sitting in a room without the teacher trying to understand the data. Simple comments bring clarity to assessment data. This is true even in standards-based environments.

I would even argue semester and trimester comments are useless. Action needs to be swift, and data needs to be updated weekly.

Require Teachers to Update Grades Often

Obviously, without data, no action can transpire. Data needs to be updated every 5-10 school days. If a teachers gives 4 significant assessments in a month, and updates their grades only once every 4-6 weeks, how far will the grade(s) fall before an intervention can happen?

Keep in mind there is a gap between the time the issue is discovered, and the engagement with the student(s). Every day matters. Make a point to be the annoying administrator who is sending “gentle reminders” about grading and data updates.

 

 

 

 

Understanding The End of Year Process: Tech in the Spring Determines Tech in the Fall

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

In August or September, the first week of a new school year, do you find that your campus seems to have problems that are unexpected and out of line with the status quo from the spring term? If so, then there is probably one or many problems embedded in the execution of the school’s End of Year Process (EOY). Although this post is going to focus on technology EOY, the fact is all systems and departments have (or should have) an EOY.

Any system, department, etc., that is not practicing a well thought out EOY will not only struggle, but create a cascade of problems that will spread through out the community. This cascade will feel like a sudden and unseen wave of chaos, or a series of seemingly small disconnected problems.

An Example of a Technology EOY

Here is a list of EOY processes/jobs that must be completed before the end of the first week of July. I have simplified some of them as most have multiple steps to complete.

Active Directory access for all non-returning staff needs to be removed.
Active Directory accounts and groupings for all new staff needs to be created
Active Directory Student Accounts Need to Be Moved to the Next Year Group
New School Student Enrollment Complete/Check/Verify
Leaving Grade 5 Students in PowerSchool
All other Primary School Leaving Students Transfer After RollOver and Remove AD Accounts
Destiny needs to be updated
Powerschool Roll Over and Back to School Update (If Required)
Powerschool Records must be Cleaned- teachers/students/etc/ use PowerTools to Check Data Issues
PS Database Backup to Test Server
Make Primary School School Teams
Primary School Backup Report PDFs Generated
Secondary School Backup Report PDFs Generated
New Courses for Primary School Imported/ Old Courses Off
New Courses for Secondary School Imported/ Old Courses Off
PowerSchool- Plugins Update
Office 365 users and groups need to be adjusted to match the schools AD
Turn-It-In, and Naviance Updates/Staff/Students/Etc
ATLAS- Add new Hires and Remove All Old Accounts
Prepare all laptops, printers, and other necessary equipment that have been damaged sent for repair
Prepare all laptops, printers, and other necessary equipment to be recycled
Year 17-18 Orders – All Paperwork completed so items arrive in August
New Constructions/ Building – Checked and Tested
Websense Sync and Configure
Filewave Sync and Configure
Secondary School School Server Room Cleaned and Placed in Correct Working Order
Secondary School Switch Rooms Cleaned and Checked
Primary School School Server Room Cleaned and Placed in Correct Working Order
Primary School School Switch Rooms Cleaned and Checked

This list does not include the procurement process, as that connects to other EOYs in other departments. 

This list is share as an online dashboard. Jobs are assigned to team members. Each job has a status, due date, and comment box.

Many of the systems on the list above have embedded EOY processes as well. For example, PowerSchool and Atlas Rubicon have steps to follow every year to close out the school year.

If any of these jobs is not completed, or not completed with enough time to repair problems or make some adjustments to the fall planning, the start of school will be rough.

The Myth of the Summer Staff

Many schools assume that EOY processes can be done slowly during the summer because they have summer staff. This is a myth, and it usually does not work well because the logic is flawed.

First off, summer staff are always fewer in number than the staff during the normal year. So unless the school is completely closed down, then they will actually have less time to focus on meaningful work. For example, unless the schools avoids summer camps, conferences, admissions tours, etc., the summer staff will become distracted. Their jobs many seem less demanding, but EOY processes take hours to complete, and require large blocks of time. Large blocks of time require more human resources than are available during the summer.

Secondly, summer staff tend to work a different work schedule. The hours are reduced, and oversight is lacking. Knowing it takes 4-6 weeks at 40 hours a week to complete the EOY, how is it possible for fewer people working fewer hours to complete the same job in 4-6 weeks? The math simply does not work. Departments trying to fulfill EOY with limited summer staff will be setting the stage for an anxiety and problem ridden start of the year.

Finally, unless summer staff have 100% full signature authority and empowerment to make decisions, many jobs will be partially done and awaiting a manager to return. Not only will this cause delays, but it will also cause project fragmentation. Think of a multiple puzzles missing multiple pieces in order to visualize this problem.

EOY is End of Year not The Beginning of Next Year

EOY processes are designed to allow the time needed to make upgrades, backups, repairs, etc. These processes need to finish no more than a few weeks after the last day with students (and many need to be completed on or before the last day with students).

Do the EOY on time, prevent the cascade of problems, and start the year on a forward moving pace that exceed the status quo. I firmly believe a good start leads to a good year.

Further Recommended Reading:

The Systems Lifecycle

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Systems_development_life_cycle

 

Online Reports – Slim Budgets and Happy Trees

yesno

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

All things being equal, everyone agrees that publishing online is better for consumable budgets and the environment. However, when put to the test, many schools still opt to print reports and report cards (the latter referring to nicely formatted documents potentially with a cute photo).

Two years ago I did a survey of 24 schools. I found 50% did at least one online report, and 60% printed at least one major report a year.

There is a middle ground in this process if a school is currently using a modern student information system such as PowerSchool. These systems allow for HTML5 based reports. The formatting and style options are numerous, and parents can print or save the documents for their records (or embarrassing moments when they meet a prom date).

This is a One-Sided Accounting Issue

Printing is expensive. Printing student records of any type is rarely perfect the first time through the process. Re-printing is common. Waste is abundant. Finally, if you send documents home with students, or mail them, a percentage a never received.

In January of 2011, the Telegraph reported that state schools were spending roughly 200,000 GBP on photocopying over five years. Printing is actually more expensive per page impression, and less efficient. This is not taking into consideration the cost of running equipment or the environmental factors. This is just in paper and black and white toner. Another study in 2011  from the Edutopia blog stated that US Schools are spending 30,000-50,000 USD on printing done by teachers for their classes. Meaning, student printing and office printing is not included.

If that money were reduced by 50%, where could it be reallocated in the land of consumables? The options are fairly endless for teachers needing resources.

In 2015 the Parent Paperwork Blog collected data showing that many schools are spending around 10% more on printing than on education technology. Apps and subscriptions are an excellent value, and not normally considered an asset. Boosting subscriptions and apps with savings from printing would be an excellent benefit in and out of the classroom.

An economist would point out that schools would not be saving if they reduced printing, they would simply be passing the cost on to families. This is true, however, the cost the school is passing is offset by the fact that families will not have massive waste in reprinting. Schools tend to print in large batches. If a mistake is not noticed immediately, then the waste from one batch would equal the initial (and only) printing from many households.

Furthermore, a percentage of families will not print at all. They will save the records to PDF. If the school prints, the school must print equally for everyone.

I am not currently permitted to share my current printing budget. However, in 2013 I was told to find savings in printing and ink. My school has an excellent Xerox plan with all the tools needed to track cost and printing. After analysis, the main issue was printing reports.

The Environmental Impact is Real

If a school really wants to sell people on helping the environment by reducing printing, then the discussion should shift to the processes involved in making paper and ink, using paper and ink, and then wasting paper and ink. Forget about counting pages, and study the entire cycle.

Here is a nice infographic and some research to support what the full cycle looks like:

http://www.milner.com/company/blog/technology/2016/04/22/environmental-impact-of-printing

 

A single school, on a worldwide scale, may not seem significant. I would argue that on a local community scale, a single school is one of the biggest consumers of paper and ink (and all the interrelated components). When a school acts locally, they are not simply helping the campus, they are helping their surrounding community.

Parents Like Nice Looking Reports

I have often lost when debating that my school(s) should send home simple email based reports; or suggested the online reports should be the simple default templates found in PowerSchool and other systems. I have always believed that the data is the most important element, and that 90% of all the development of reports should be in working with and communicating the data. The reality is, people want to see something appealing. With the online world as it is today, families are immersed in nice looking apps and websites. There is an expectation of nice presentation.

I suppose it is fair to state that simple reports look bleak and a slightly unprofessional.

Therefore, I have committed time to developing HTML5 based reports. I have seen many other schools do this as well.

The reports are not only visually appealing online, but have special features to format them for printing or for turning them into a PDF.

Some systems I have worked with in the past can publish a PDF directly to a parent account, however, creating the layout in many of these systems is very time consuming. Because HTML5 is so common, developing new layouts is much easier. The entire process is the same as building any type of webpage, as opposed to developing in a system that use proprietary software.

How Dirty is Your Data?

Data-Cleaning

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

My basic rule for data is, unless there is a life and death scenario unfolding, bad or unclean data is not going to be used. I have yet to encounter a situation where releasing data, which will eventually wreak havoc throughout the school, is an essential and lifesaving endeavor. Delaying systems access due to data issues is difficult. Even the smallest of systems have vocal advocates who will passionately state the damage being done to learning for every day a system is offline.

The best way to exist in a data-driven environment is to be prepared. Being prepared means being aware. Awareness comes from a regular, I would argue monthly, check of all core databases and having policies and procedures for correcting problems.

The real question is this: how does someone not involved in direct data management, check data? And how does someone who is an end user of data set policies to protect the data they need?

Validate and Verify

Anyone dealing with an IT manager, Technology Director, School Information System Specialist, or even a Business Manager should know about validation and verification.

When you validate, you are making certain the contents and format are correct. For example, if I ask you to type your name, and you instead you type your phone number, then you will not be validated. Your data is invalid.

When you verify, you are looking at data that is already in a system to see if it is correct and  in the correct place. For example, when you check a list of student names, you may find all middle names are part of the first name. If this was not by design, you could determine that the data failed verification.

When dealing with assets we often want to verify that what we ordered is what we received. When this type of questioning occurs, verification is happening.

Most people are hit with validation constantly while using the internet. Validation is ubiquitous. Websites often ask you to enter answers to questions, passwords, and CAPTCHA to validate your actions.

These two concepts,validation and verification, are the main tools needed to help the non-data managing people to engage and work with data managers.

Data Auditing

Many people will start auditing data by requesting a spreadsheet of data. This is a mistake.
Data without context is very difficult to understand.

The first step in auditing is simpe. Using questions, learn  how the data is validated:

  1. Where does a new record come from? (Paper + Manual Entry, Online form, Over the Phone + Manual Entry, Software running on computers at the school, etc.)
  2. How are errors prevented and checked?
  3. May I see the…form, paper, call script?
  4. May I do a sample and test the process?
  5. How do I know, after I complete the process, what data was collected?

I often find people are blown away by the time they get to step 5. They are either shocked at how amazing the system is, or appalled at the short comings. Since most data in schools comes from either families or is connected to student assessment, shortcomings do not sit well.

There is nothing to fix at this point. Even if there is a strong belief the system needs to be changed, change should always be data driven, and in this case, driven by the data quality. Until the data is actually reviewed, pause any immediate desire to change things.

The next step is to verify the data, and this can be done by requesting spreadsheets. If the school has a school information system (SIS) like PowerSchool, iSams, Blackbaud, etc. the first set of data needs to come from the SIS. This data should be the primary set used to create accounts in other systems.

Before asking for data, fields must be specified. For example, full name, date of birth, mother’s email address, etc. Be as specific as possible. When people are not specific, data managers take fields and manipulate them. You should be looking at raw data, not data that is filtered and/or edited.

When scanning the data from the SIS, after knowing how the data was collected, errors should start jumping out. If anything seems weird, make a note of it for further discussion. This process usually reveals patterns, such as, everyone having the same zipcode (yes that happened to me).

The secondary systems such as Moodle, Accelerated Reader, Discovery Streaming, etc. can have their data exported to be checked as well. These system often export a .csv file. Don’t worry. Excel, Numbers, and Libre Office can open .csv files. After the file is open, save it as Excel so that it is easier to work with.

Remember, it is not about being certain, it is about being suspicious and asking questions around those suspicions.