MyD230: District 230’s Online Grade Book
- By Darrell Walery
01.24.2007—For the last six years or so, Consolidated High School District 230, in suburban Chicago, has been using a custom-built online grade book. Initially, the goals were simply to provide students and parents with information more quickly and readily and to simplify grade tracking for our teachers. But the result has been far more profound and illustrates how one seemingly minor project can evolve into a tool that can not only store data but use the data to help students achieve more in their academic careers—as long as we, as technology directors, take the right approach.
Back in 2000, the "right approach" wasn't necessarily immediately apparent. The state of education technology and all related technologies was quite different. A 1:1 school would have been cover material for Time magazine. A personal computer running at a 1 GHz CPU clock speed was science fiction. The Web was still referred to by cutesy phrases like "cyberspace." (Try to remember that without getting a little red in the face.) And few, if any, student record systems incorporated an online grade book. (Little of anything in K-12 education incorporated an online component.)
So back in 2000, when we set of on this online grade book project, we had precious few antecedents to work with. We set our goals (again: to provide ready access to grades for parents and students and to simplify grade tracking for teachers) and contracted with an outside firm, Apps Communications, a local Web development company, about creating and implementing our online grade book.
At that time, there were several online hosted grade books that you could pay for and subscribe to. About 75 percent of our teachers used a computer-based grade book. But, as I mentioned, very few, if any, student record systems included online access/grade books.
So we created our own custom-built online grade book and managed to hit both of our initial goals technologically. We dubbed the system "MyD230."
Next we had to get the teachers involved.
We began by asking teachers to use MyD230 on a volunteer basis. Many training sessions were held by our tech mentors to show the teachers how to use the grade book. (Training is a critical factor in implementation.) And the percentage of staffers using the system grew steadily, up to about 75 percent by the end of the third year.
At the same time, we were also getting parents and students involved. Parent surveys had shown an overwhelmingly positive response to MyD230. But there was one significant negative comment we heard time and again from those parents: Not all teachers were using the application.
So we worked with our Teachers Association to implement full usage by all instructors. And so, almost needless to say, training kicked into full gear that summer as we transitioned into full implementation. But we got through it.
And since then, the project has continued to evolve and expand into something more than just a glorified ledger. The following year we implemented minimum update intervals so parents could expect new grade information more often, a process managed by our building administrators. And, more recently, we've added the ability to connect standards to individual test items so that data can be gathered on how students are doing on standards achievement.
This particular process begins with subject area division chairmen entering the common test items for unit tests into the system. When teachers scan their tests, they enter a predetermined code for the correct test. This moves the scanned test data directly into their grade books so that the scores to not have to be entered manually. Of course it also collects the data in a database so reports can be generated by teacher, school, and district. Teachers then use the data to have conversations with each other about what is working and what is not working.
We have also implemented an email alerting system that sends an e-mail to parents when a student’s grade drops below a set point. This is very helpful for busy parents that may not be online all the time but do check e-mail.
All of this and more evolved from the simple idea of providing a central online repository for grades, built from scratch. Now there are far more choices for such a system.
The best solution, of course, is one that's directly integrated with your student records application. Ours is not and requires data upload and download to start and end each semester. This also prevents changes from automatically occurring when students transfer in our out. Those must also be handled manually. (Another item on the to-do list.)
But you will encounter obstacles along the way. One of the biggest is simply getting your teachers using the same grading system. My experience is that most teachers pick grading systems based on personal preference, not any proven practice in education. But all the variety of systems only confuses students and parents. In my district, we've adopted a standard 18-week system that calculates grades throughout the entire semester. Grades do not start over at the end of the first or third quarter. This allows for a more accurate picture of how a student is doing during the first few weeks of the second and fourth quarters. Whatever you and your teachers decide, the upshot of the process is that it forces conversations about what grading systems are used and hopefully get most teachers doing similar things.
Here's some advice from my experience that ought to hep you avoid this and some of the other obstacles you might encounter.
- Get teachers involved in the application selection process. If you are not going to change student record systems and the grade book is integrated, this will be a moot point. I would then involve them in the plan for rollout.
Train, train, train! This is most important. We tried to offer as many different flavors of training as would could. We offered classes, created online help pages that someone could follow on their own, did "one on one" training, and created paper documents.
- Teachers report that using the online grade book does not really change the amount of parent phone calls but changes the type of conversations that they have. Conversations are more efficient and start with why is this happening, instead of what is happening. In the end it does save the teacher time. This is information you can use in your "plus column" in the pre-implementation stage.
- Another one for the plus column: When all teachers are doing online grades, there is no need for mid-quarter progress reports. We only send them to parents who have requested them. We are also considering eliminating the quarter grade report card, as it is really just another progress update.
- And one more: Students and parents get end of semester grades almost instantly after final testing is completed. No more waiting weeks for the report card.
Implementing an online grade book is a challenge well worth the effort. The immediate information parents receive can make a big difference in allowing them to intervene at an earlier time. It gets parents involved and gets them asking the right questions. It can help with student achievement, and it gives teachers the individual and aggregate information they need to help move students further along in meeting and, hopefully, exceeding standards.
About the author: Darrell Walery is Director of Technology at Consolidated High School District 230 in Orland Park, IL.
Darrell Walery is Director of Technology at Consolidated High School District 230 in Orland Park, IL.