Utah Middle School Implements Turnkey Gradebook System

Grade management has taken a new meaning at Payson Middle School in Payson, Utah. Gone are the days of filling out paper grading sheets or bubble scanning forms. Instead, classroom attendance and assessment information is automatically transferred to a central office at pre-selected intervals. Parents can even call in from any touch-tone telephone and access their children's grade files. Payson is one of 14 sites that have beta tested Pinnacle, an integrated client/server gradebook system from Excelsior Software, Greeley, Colo. The school runs the software from a 486DX50, connected to 35 teacher workstations via a 10Base-T Ethernet backbone. Adding Pinnacle allows for open access to the firm's grade2 Data Server database, which Payson has used since last year. Real-Time Online Access The 850-student school has also integrated Pinnacle with SASI, a student information system from MACRO Educational Systems. As a result, administrators and counselors enjoy real-time, online access to vital student data. "You don't have to run all over school getting grades from individual teachers," comments Eldon McMurray, the network system administrator. Administrators collect period-by-period attendance directly from teachers' grade2 class files over the network. They can view, summarize and evaluate any of the data. Extensive query-style reporting and analysis enables school-wide comparisons to be quickly obtained. At the beginning of a term, class rosters are automatically distributed to every teacher, complete with students' names, addresses, phone number, gender, etc. In the past, instructors handed out 3X5 cards to solicit such information. Of course, the new approach takes far less time. "With Pinnacle, in 15 minutes teachers can set up all their classes," says McMurray. And when taking attendance, teachers simply hit one key, scan down a list and mark students that are missing. McMurray estimates the process takes about two minutes. "Teachers tell me that [Pinnacle] is faster to use than the other gradebooks we had before." Involving Parents In addition, Payson officials have exploited the system to further involve parents in the learning process. With the help of the Parent Link phone/voice-mail system from Parlant Technology, one can call the school to find out about student progress, missed assignments, current class attendance, teachers' comments and more. The phone system obtains the information from grade2's Data Server and converts it into spoken sentences that parents hear over the phone. Administrators can even program the system to notify parents if, for example, their child fails to show up for the first period class or scores below a certain threshold. "Teachers are busy," notes McMurray. "We wanted parents to be able to make a telephone call and within a reasonable amount of time get an informative report on how their children are doing." Students themselves may utilize Pinnacle to stay up-to-date with their grades and attendance. Some schools (though not Payson) even allow students working at home on modem-equipped computers to view assessment reports online. Nearly any third-party "off-the-shelf" product can be combined with Pinnacle. For example, one can create report cards with a word processor or graph comparative data of student outcomes via a spreadsheet. McMurray speaks highly of the system's reporting flexibility and its smooth integration with various administrative applications. He says he's also committed to Pinnacle because of the high level of customer support provided by Excelsior. Since October, McMurray has had daily contact with a company representative. The representative used Norton's PcAnywhere remote-control software to make adjustments on Payson's server to match that site's unique needs. McMurray later organized inservice workshops to train teachers on the system. Excelsior invites users to attend summer training sessions at their Greeley, Colo. facility. A set fee covers all materials, local transportation and some meals. They also offer onsite training to site license users and groups of ten or more. Based on his positive experience with Pinnacle, McMurray expects other area schools will adopt the system, especially as more administrators abandon paper in favor of electronic processing.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.