Idaho: From Dreams to Reality: The Idaho Student Information Management System

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Over the next four to six years, Idaho will create a statewide student information and curriculum management system that will feature leading-edge technology and tools that parents, students and teachers can use to improve learning. When fully implemented, every public school in the state will use the system.

The Idaho Department of Education (SDE), the Idaho State Board of Education (SB'E), the governor of Idaho, and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation (JKAF) have formed a partnership to create the Idaho Student Information Management System (ISIMS). To support this project the Idaho Legislature passed, and the governor signed, House Bill 367, and the parties entered into a 10-year contractual relationship to formally establish the partnership and define their respective roles and responsibilities related to the system.

As defined within this contract, JKAF shall have authority over the design, build and implementation of the ISIMS solution. The contract further authorizes the superintendent of public instruction, on behalf of SDE, to execute vendor contracts related to the ISIMS project. The SB'E will review such vendor contracts.

A 10-Year Effort

The challenge first came in 1995 as one of the main goals of the newly formed State Technology Plan. The Idaho Council for Technology in Learning (ICTL) directed the State Department of Education to develop a statewide system that would use technology to improve student achievement. Long before the No Child Left Behind Act, Idaho set a course to raise student performance by integrating the use of technology in the classroom, aligning instruction and assessment to state standards, and developing a system that would aid both parents and teachers in identifying individual student academic needs. As Dr. Marilyn Howard, state superintendent of public instruction, often said, "We are going to learn to love the data."

By 1998, Idaho was well on its way to achieving a student-to-computer ratio of 3-to-1 thanks to the yearly commitment of the state Legislature to maintain consistent technology funding, as well as a generous technology grant from JKAF. The concept of a statewide student information management system that would also include curriculum management was first presented to the ICTL and JKAF in 1999. By 2002, a partnership of the key stakeholders and professional education groups had been formed. With the signing of House Bill 367, the ISIMS project was officially launched.

Scope of ISIMS

It is the goal of ISIMS to create an integrated "one-stop" education system that includes the maintenance of general student information, the ability for educators to access curriculum resources to aid in lesson planning geared to meeting state standards, and a reporting and analytics capability that lets different types of users gain a clear picture of how the Idaho educational system is performing for individual students and in the aggregate. The system includes three primary applications that consist of the following products:

  • Student Information - eSIS, provided by The Administrative Assistants Ltd., a Toronto-based educational software company.
  • Curriculum Management - Orion, provided by PLATO Learning, a Minnesota-based a supplier of educational technology-based instruction and curriculum management support tools.
  • Reporting & Analytics - Academic Accelerator, provided by CRI Advantage, a Boise, Idaho-based software development and systems consulting firm.

These applications are being configured to pass data through an integration layer built using the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF). This framework and its inclusion in ISIMS pave the way for future expansion of the overall ISIMS system, allowing it to interface with other systems used by schools to manage such things as bus scheduling and special meal programs.

The applications will also feed into an ISIMS data warehouse that will enable appropriate users to perform a variety of sophisticated data-analysis and decision-support functions, all with the intent of improving education for Idaho students. Data will also include Idaho state tests such as the Direct Writing Assessment, Direct Math Assessment and the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) early reading tests. The ISIMS data warehouse will also include the results from the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), a computerized statewide levels test that provides immediate digital feedback of data that will enable greater individualized instruction and intervention based on state standards.

The system will be accessed using standard Web browsers via the Internet and/or a virtual private network (VPN) through a portal built specifically for ISIMS. This will allow users to reach all the applications through a single sign on, giving the user interface a seamless feel. It will also validate users through password and other security measures, and enable access to different areas of the system based on their user type and security authorization.

The ISIMS project involves a large number of users and interested parties, including:

  • Approximately 250,000 students in the state of Idaho
  • Approximately 340,000 parents and guardians
  • Approximately 25,000 teachers and administration staff
  • More than 700 school buildings
  • More than 110 district offices
Some of the functionality that will be available to various stakeholders includes:
  • Teachers - Curriculum and lesson plans, class assessment and progress reports, standards-based report cards, tools for communicating with parents on homework, attendance, and progress toward student goals.
  • Parents and Students - Progress reports, homework assignments, attendance records and progress toward graduation requirements.
  • Schools and School Districts - Aggregated student data on state and local tests; state and national comparison data; and school, district and program performance data.
  • Public and Policy-makers. Aggregated student achievement information, state and national comparison data, as well as district and state report cards.

Currently, the project is in the middle of a pilot phase to continue the development and test the various elements of configuration and integration, to refine the process for wide-scale implementation, as well as to determine any system and network performance issues. This work is being performed by a development team composed of professionals with special skills and backgrounds in the areas of application, integration, infrastructure design and engineering, quality assurance and testing solutions, education-specific analysis and engineering, data management solutions, implementation solutions, as well as training and project management.

Professional Development

However, Idaho has not forgotten the people who will be using the system - the teachers. At the beginning of the project, Idaho teachers were directed by the SB'E to pass one of three optional Teacher Technology Competency Exams that are based on International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards (found online at www.sde.state.id.us/bots/testing.asp). Today, passing a minimum technology competency is required for all certified teachers. JKAF has also trained more than 3,000 Idaho teachers through the "Teaching With Technology" program, which emphasizes the proper integration of technology in discovery-based learning practices.

The ISIMS project will be supported by a rigorous professional development plan that is designed to prepare all teachers, administrators and district data professionals in the proper use of the various ISIMS tools. While training people how to use the system is crucial to its success, even more important is professional development. Idaho colleges of education will play an important role in preparing the next generation of teachers to use the ISIMS tools in raising student academic performance.

Online Resources

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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