Elementary Teachers Track Attendance With Student Administration System

When teachers at Dent Elementary returned to their classrooms this fall, they no longer had to precede their lessons by calling out students' names from enrollment lists. Instead, they simply click pictures on their computer screens to indicate who is absent or tardy and provide a reason, if known. These teachers are participating in a pilot program coordinated by the San Joaquin County Office of Education in Stockton, Calif. Every classroom on the Dent campus contains at least one Macintosh computer, linked to the district office via a LAN. Explains principal Debra Keizer, previously "runners" would go down the halls collecting attendance information, which administrative staff later entered into a central mainframe&emdash;processes that proved to be extremely time- consuming. "A World of Difference" "I am not a technology expert," says Keizer. "The ability to point and click and have a program tell you what to do makes a world of difference." County officials first started looking for a new attendance reporting system about two years ago. They talked to several vendors before selecting SASIxp from Macro Educational Systems of Laguna Hills, Calif. According to Jeff McDaniel, director of information technology for the San Joaquin County Office of Education, because roughly 90% of the computers involved were Macintoshes, schools needed a package that would support that platform. SASIxp was tested in the '94-95 school year by one high school and four elementary schools (including Dent). McDaniel's task was to assemble a turnkey solution for each site based on its needs and resources. At Dent, teachers not only record attendance electronically, they also can access demographic, health and discipline information for any student by pressing a few buttons on their keyboard. McDaniel says training staff to use SASIxp took but a couple of hours. Visual Seating Chart The package's graphical interface includes a seating chart with pictures of students as they are arranged in the classroom. Each teacher may select and organize the display of index cards and select colors to suit his or her preferences. The platform-independent system reduces paperwork and eliminates scan forms that can be lost or misread. After logging on with a password, teachers gain access to the photos and data for their students. They may monitor absences and tardies by course as well as by period. Records are automatically updated on the main file server. Principal Keizer says the visual seating charts especially help substitute teachers, who can then better place students' names with faces. She adds that SASIxp allows all teachers to more effectively communicate with parents by putting reliable information at their fingertips. Now that the attendance module has been successfully tested, the county next plans to implement the Grade Reporting component, with which teachers can input grades and other pertinent data. Electronic transcripts will include courses completed and in progress, GPAs, rank, narrative, deficiencies, test scores and more. "Teacher Empowerment" McDaniel notes that installing a state-of-the-art student information system requires a commitment of funds, but insists that the investment more than pays for itself through what he calls "teacher empowerment." For example, he says, teachers can more quickly respond to frequent absences, not to mention more serious problems such as medical emergencies. Both McDaniel and Keizer cite the importance of having knowledgeable support personnel. McDaniel adds that Macro Education Systems "has been attentive to what our needs are." He notes that other school districts have looked at San Joaquin County as a model for upgrading their attendance procedures, which leads him to believe that, someday soon, even fewer students will start each class by raising their hand and shouting "here" to reveal their presence.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.