Fla. High School Links Gradebook & More to IVR Phone System

By utilizing the capabilities of two different software systems, Pine Forest High School in Pensacola is the first Florida school to provide 24-hour real-time access to student information.

The two software systems are PhoneMaster 2000, an interactive voice response (IVR) system, and grade2, an electronic gradebook, complimented by Pinnacle, a student attendance system. All together they provide a seamless link from the teacher's desk to the parent/student community.

The grade2 Pinnacle System, by Greeley, Colo.-based Excelsior Software, Inc., allows Pine Forest teachers to enter their grades and attendance records into a software program at the school. Parents and students can then dial in from any touch-tone phone and obtain grades and attendance records for all classes. PhoneMaster 2000, by U.S. Telecom International, Inc. in Joplin, Missouri, also provides each teacher with a voice mail box for 24-hour communication.

Not Just for Parents

"At the school's open house, we told parents about the dial-in process," says David Bond, Technology Coordinator at Pine Forest High School. "Within the first two weeks, we received almost 2,000 calls into the electronic gradebook and we continue to receive about 240 calls per night."

Parents aren't the only ones using the system. Between November 6th and January 6th, students called the system 6,100 times to check their grades, compared with 5,900 calls from parents.

Teachers at Pine Forest are positive about the new tool. Grade2 helps them calculate grades efficiently and accurately while the PhoneMaster 2000 system allows parents to become more informed and involved with their chilren's educational performance.

"It is difficult for parents to get in touch with teachers during the day, and vice versa," states Bond. "Parents are more informed now when they contact teachers. We also want students to know what their grades are. Feedback from students and parents has been very positive."

The PhoneMaster 2000 system allows the school to automatically call student homes, deliver recorded information and messages, and conduct surveys. These surveys can be conducted beyond regular school hours in order to reach those parents who are not at home during the day.

According to Dr. Robin Largue, the principal at Pine Forest, "To provide information to assist in implementing School Improvement Plans, surveys of recent graduates will be conducted to acquire information such as career preparedness and general preparedness for post-secondary education and/or employment. Also, parents and students will be surveyed concerning their perception of the school and school programs."

In a recent survey conducted using PhoneMaster's polling feature, 89% of parents responding said they thought the new system was useful. Almost 70% of parents credited the system for encouraging higher grades and 51% of students responded the same. One of the most significant responses, however, came from 86% of parents who felt the new program helped them become more involved in their child's activities.

"The children can be more in charge of how things are going, of what they are doing to make their grades better," says parent Elna Francis, who checks her son Jeff's grades at least once a week. The system was helpful earlier this school year when Jeff was out sick. By calling in, Francis discovered one of her son's teachers was giving him zeros for his assignments because she thought Jeff's absences were unexcused. Once she was aware of the problem, the grading error was cleared up right away.

Integration & Perstistence

Console and remote maintenance allow the upkeep of the system to be user-specific. Principals and educators can record their school news into PhoneMaster with a simple phone call from any touch-tone phone. Grade2 provides schools with a SQL-based flexible, turnkey, integrated gradebook system linking the classrooms to the school administrative network while PhoneMaster 2000 extends the link from the classroom and school into the home.

"We also use PhoneMaster 2000 to call parents regarding school information," adds Bond. "We called parents to extend a personal invitation to our annual Open House and more than 900 parents attended, our best turnout on record."

PhoneMaster 2000 is persistent in outbound calling, retrying busy numbers and no-answer calls. The MachineMaster feature allows complete messages to be delivered to answering machines. To track the effectiveness, schools are provided with printed reports following each call session. PhoneMaster 2000 saves staff time, printing and postage costs, eliminates the difficult task of locating parents during the day, and improves the successful exchange of information between the school and parents.

A Real Time-Saver

Dr. Largue says the greatest benefit for teachers is saving time. Generating a report card simply requires the punch of a button because every assignment is already entered on the school-wide system. The school expects to save between $500 and $600 a year in grading supplies alone, states Largue.

Through the dynamic capabilities of this combined system, Pine Forest no longer needs to send periodic reports home to parents -- with a simple phone call, parents have progress report information right at their fingertips.

"Pine Forest High School was the first school in the nation to utilize the combination of grade2 and PhoneMaster 2000," explains Bond. "We are continuing to explore unique and innovative uses of technology at Pine Forest High School."

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.