Electronic Gradebook Products Change the Way Teachers Do Business in the Classroom
A school and a district are 2,000 miles apart. Yet both Mountain View High School in Loveland, Colo., and Broward County Public School District in Florida have experienced two uniquely effective implementations of the Pinnacle System, an electronic student management and assessment solution developed by Excelsior Software Inc.
When Mountain View High School opened its doors in August 2000 with 750 students, expectations for a high-tech building were running strong. The school, part of the Thompson School District in Loveland,
looked for a new way to handle the collection and management of student data. After researching various software solutions, Mountain View selected Excelsior's Pinnacle System. Pauline Denning, the school's media specialist and instructional technologist, assembled a team to learn Pinnacle Gradebook together; with each member training, in turn, about 10 people. Denning estimated 95 percent of their teachers immediately began using Gradebook. A month after implementation, one teacher was selected to hold individual user conferences to solve problems and answer questions; with follow-up sessions repeated midyear.
Student, Parent Appeal
Pinnacle System modules share information with those who need it. Using Pinnacle's Student Viewer, students can access their records on most of the school's 285 workstations. Denning believes that most students want to take responsibility for their work and attendance, but sometimes find it difficult to ask teachers about it. Student Viewer makes the process more private. 'Student Viewer totally changed the way we do business in this school,' says Denning.
The Parent Internet Viewer allows parents to logon to a Web site and view student records. Pinnacle Notification Systems automatically e-mail parents with information on grades and absences. 'When we implemented the e-mail program, the parents just went crazy. It was probably the most empowering thing we did for parents in opening this new school,' says Denning. The Notification Systems e-mail five different reports to parents:
- An absence notice when their child is marked absent and a parent has not called;
- A warning if their child's grades slip below a certain point;
- A weekly attendance record;
- A standard grade report; and
- A snapshot of their child's grade in every teacher's gradebook.
Mountain View initially used the school newsletter to explain Pinnacle Notification Systems and enroll parents in the program.
For parents who want to be involved in their children's education, but whose busy schedules make it difficult for them to stay in frequent contact with the school, the e-mail reports provide the quality and quantity of information they need. Mountain View also found that Pinnacle's Student Viewer, Parent Viewer and Notification Systems promoted conversation between parents and kids. 'Parents started using those e-mail reports as a way of summing up the week with their kids, and perhaps expanding or restricting privileges based on what was happening,' says Denning. Pinnacle's unique telephone interface lets parents without computer access call anytime to get their kids' grades. 'Twenty-five percent of our students are on free or reduced lunches, so we're talking a real equity issue here,' she says.
A Worthy Investment
Mountain View's teachers found that the Pinnacle Notification Systems freed them from time-consuming phone calls to parents about their children. Teachers at the school are not alone in contending with large class sizes and parents who want a phone call the minute their child's grades start to slip. Pinnacle streamlined the process of charting student progress, reducing time spent on figuring grades, posting grades, tracking eligibility and calling parents. Parent-teacher conferences became more productive as the parents' daily level of knowledge about their child rose. 'Pinnacle Gradebook provides a basis for teachers to talk about how they grade and what they value,' says Denning.
Mountain View also gives almost full viewing rights in the Principal Viewer module to every teacher. Athletic coaches and student advisors can also use Principal Viewer to check on students' sports eligibility and academic progress. Students, instructors and administrators find Pinnacle's environment of open information and personal accountability empowering.
In addition, Mountain View keeps students' information private with unique ID numbers and passwords. Pinnacle Palm, a module that allows for system access using a handheld device, enables all school personnel to enhance security in the hallways. Instead of having to use walkie-talkies or desktop computers, teachers and security staff can instantly look up any student anywhere, at anytime, to determine who they are and where they're supposed to be.
The Pinnacle System operates on the school's multiple computer platforms, including Windows, Windows NT and Macintosh, surmounting compatibility issues. It uses an SQL-based, open-architecture system requiring minimal user training. Pinnacle Gradebook also interfaces well with SASI, which is in use in the Thompson district. Implementation wasn't perfect, but things smoothed out quickly, according to Denning. 'It d'es take some configuring and some support. But after that initial month and getting everyone trained, we only got stronger,' she says. Denning believes the system's benefits were well worth the investment in technology. 'We spent close to $1.8 million on technology, including infrastructure, computers, software titles, printers, scanners, digital camcorders and digital cameras,' she says.
Post-Secondary School Benefits
Florida's Broward County Public Schools have just completed a one-year pilot program where teachers field-tested Pinnacle Tech, a post-secondary version of the Pinnacle System. After using the new Pinnacle Tech assessment and management system in McFatter Technical Center and two other post-secondary schools, Broward County is rolling it out districtwide.
Until now, the need for highly individualized records maintenance has kept post-secondary schools from using the standard electronic gradebooks designed for the elementary and secondary school markets. Students at community colleges, technical schools and other certificate programs can enroll at any time of the year and finish on their own schedule. Certificate programs require students to meet state performance or proficiency-based requirements by demonstrating mas-tery of multiple skill levels.
Students are often in the dark about their progress toward certificate completion. To see how they're doing may require an in-person visit to an administrator who must then retrieve performance records, which is an inconvenient task. Broward County schools can now use Pinnacle Tech to track and analyze students' essential skills within three hierarchical levels: occupational completion points, intended outcomes and student performance standards. In an automotive certificate program, for example, the system automatically records the completion date and grade for each course required to earn the certificate. Learning objectives for each course are also stored in thedatabase for easy viewing. Students can at any moment see which skills remain to be mastered and plan their course load appropriately. Pinnacle Tech's multiyear, multiterm reporting capabilities also accommodate the post-secondary schools' need for individualized attendance tracking.
Students, instructors and administrators alike benefit from the automation of grades, attendance and other student data. Pinnacle Tech maintains the current master schedule, provides class rosters, and collects grades, attendance and discipline data from teachers. The system also distributes grades and attendance data to the administrative system and updates each teacher's classroom files with administrative system changes. Pinnacle Tech allows instructors to define individual assignments and correlate up to 10 student performance standards within each assignment. They can also assess student performance with multiple grading methods and weighting schemes.
The software program also incorporates Florida's Workforce Development Information System standards. Computerizing student data with Pinnacle Tech put an end to repetitive data entry and brought standardization to the documentation process, resulting in fewer human errors and greater accountability.
Excelsior Software Inc.
This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.