Rockford Public Schools’ Initiative to Launch eSchoolPLUS Standards-Based Gradebook Paves Way for Greater Transparency, Closer Connection with Parents and Guardians
Rockford Public Schools (RPS) 205 is one of the largest school districts in Illinois and the largest employer in Rockford, with approximately 4,700 employees. RPS 205 is comprised of 28 elementary schools, six middle schools, five high schools, three early childhood centers, six specialty programs, and one adult education center that are “shaping tomorrow.” With the mission of collaboratively engaging all students in a world-class education, RPS 205 offers a rich and varied curriculum for its 28,000 students. The curriculum provides a foundation for effective, targeted.
“Implementing the SunGard K-12 platform allowed us to take really big steps forward from where we were. In addition to increasing the transparency of scoring, the combined effort has had the added benefit of improving accuracy and efficiency of score reporting. ”
Chris Taskey | Information Services Coordinator | RPS 205
Eager to partner more closely with parents and guardians, the district’s Board of Education launched an initiative to share student achievement data with families through an online portal. For the district’s elementary schools, this initiative necessitated moving from a cumbersome, manual process for recording evidence of student learning and scores to a web-based standards-based gradebook.
RPS 205 implemented the eSchoolPLUS standards-based gradebook in its 28 elementary schools as a prelude to launching the eSchoolPLUS Home Access Center portal to parents of elementary students.
To support students in developing higher-order thinking skills and to redefine learning not just as what students know but what they can do with what they know, RPS 205 implemented a standards- based grading system in its 28 elementary schools. Five years after the launch of this initiative, RPS 205’s Board of Education mandated the district move forward with implementing the eSchoolPLUS Home Access Center portal for sharing student data with families.
According to Diana Alt, RPS 205’s executive director of learning who oversees the curriculum at all of the district’s elementary board’s initiative was to partner more closely with parents and guardians to increase the transparency of the scoring process.
“Our board wanted parents to be able to access their students’ grades online,” she explained. “That was the impetus for trying to figure out how standards- based grading would work in an electronic grading system setup.”
As the result of this initiative, RPS 205’s 28 elementary schools transitioned from a cumbersome, labor-intensive manual process, which relied on Excel spreadsheets for tracking scores for report cards to an automated, web-based system. This effort paved the way for efficiencies and greater collaboration with parents and students.
Involve All Stakeholders in Major Initiatives
At the launch of a major initiative, Chris Taskey, RPS 205’s information services coordinator, recommended creating a committee involving a diverse group of stakeholders, from all levels and departments. “It’s extremely important that the committee members talk to school districts that have had success with
implementing the software,” he said. “Everyone has best practices, but their best practices are not going to be your best practices. From these conversations, you can pick and choose and make your own plan.”
Janice O’Brien, a software support specialist at RPS 205, advised that districts consider a pilot for the initiative. “We started with three pilot buildings and then whittled down the building to a few teachers in that building,” she said. “The pilot gave us a lot of information and allowed us to determine the process for rolling out the larger initiative. If that process is not established, written out step by step, and understandable, it can get messy in a very quick fashion.”
O’Brien also emphasized that communication is vital to building acceptance. “Be very clear about what the need is,” she said. “As you run the pilot, look for areas of confusion that might be diffused with strong communication.”
Alt agrees communication is key. “During a major transition in process, you don’t just push a button and everything gets done,” she said. “If you can get district staff to understand technology and what goes into planning, then they are more understanding and patient with the change.”
Professional Development Vital to Success
Alt said RPS 205’s initiative was launched as a collaborative effort between the Information Technology Department and her department. “How do we make our standards-based curriculum work in an electronic system? The IT Department had to figure a lot of this out,” she explained. “I assisted by providing them information about how assignments are formulated, our expectations for what parents should be able to see in the parent portal, and how many pieces of evidence need to be set up in the system to justify a score at the end of each grading period. Together we then determined a strategic process for training people in a very short time.”
To help educators develop a familiarity with the eSchoolPLUS™ standards-based gradebook, the implementation committee provided educators with access well before going live. “A year or two before, teachers had some opportunities when they could actually go into the system and get a feel for it,” Alt said. “We also set up some systems of support utilizing lab sessions, during which the IT Department and others helped teachers get accustomed to the system, learn how to enter their information, and learn what our expectations are.”
Alt partnered with O’Brien on the development of a comprehensive online resource to support educators in transitioning to the new standards-based gradebook and helping them make the most effective use of the solution. “Janice and I developed an online resource based on feedback from educators,” said Alt. “The resource detailed how to access the system, our expectations, and basic instructions for entering assignments, generating report cards, and submitting them to their administrator.”
O’Brien made herself available for one on one training sessions at each of the elementary schools. “We did site visits. We did mini-training sessions,” she recalled, noting the most difficult transitions were experienced by those educators who had struggled with the Excel spreadsheet-based process. “For those educators, I even offered to work one on one with them to help them set up their gradebook.”
To increase adoption, O’Brien recruited change agents at each of the elementary schools. “Those cheerleaders could see the vision of where this initiative was leading us, and they championed it for us,” she said. “The more champions we had, the easier it was to build momentum within the building.”
Looking back, Taskey is pleased with the outcome of the initiative. “Implementing the SunGard K-12 platform allowed us to take really big steps forward from where we were. In addition to increasing the transparency of scoring, the combined effort has had the added benefit of improving accuracy and efficiency of score reporting,” he said. “Over time, our teachers have grown in their appreciation of the real-time functionality of the standards-based gradebook.”
In addition, Taskey says this transition has resulted in users thinking differently about their work. “This initiative—both the technology and how we’ve applied it—has really created a mindshift among our users. It’s definitely allowed us to have more transparency. Principals can impersonate a teacher to see what has been entered. Parents are holding teachers more accountable, and there’s more consistency across the board,” he said. “Because of our efforts, we’ve created consistency in training and how we roll out new features and functionality. Real- time grading and having information available, whether you’re on a mobile device or on a computer, has just been a huge benefit for us.”
According to Taskey, providing access to parents also has created a hunger for even more involvement. “There’s much greater collaboration between parents and schools than there probably ever has been in the district,” he said. “Parents are asking for more and more information about their students. And the more we give them in terms of technology and accessibility, the more they want.”