Reviewers found ‘frustration’ with Schoolnet

A new student data management system has been underused in Idaho, because of widespread “frustration” with the system.

Still, Idaho educators remain hopeful that the Schoolnet system “would become a useful system over time.”

And working to address Schoolnet’s glitches makes more sense than scrapping the system and starting anew.

Those are among the key findings from a third-party review of Schoolnet — an “instructional management system” that is designed to provide teachers with timely information on student growth and development, and allow teachers to tailor instruction plans to individual students.

Fifty-one school districts and six charter schools are testing Schoolnet. The rollout has been uneven, with some educators saying the system is slow and plagued with inaccuracies. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation — which provided grants to purchase the Schoolnet system — subsequently hired a third party to review the pilot.

Other findings from the Encinitas, Calif.-based Institute for Evidence-Based Change:

  • “Schoolnet has been underused in Idaho, and most educators expressed frustration because implementation has not been seamless or as fast as districts would like.”
  • Part of the problem stems from structure. Data for Schoolnet originates from the Idaho System for Educational Excellence, the state’s relatively new longitudinal data system. There are advantages to trying to link the system, according to the review, but this is “a novel and complicated approach” to managing data.
  • Communications must be improved in several areas. Communications between the State Department of Education and local school districts need to be improved, in both directions. The Education Department and Pearson, the developer of the Schoolnet system, have had an inconsistent working relationship. “While new project leadership from Pearson has improved this relationship, miscommunications between the entities continued to impede progress on the Schoolnet implementation.”
  • The success of the Schoolnet system may hinge on whether teachers find it valuable. “Value is defined as saving time and improving student outcomes. Furthermore, using technology simply for technology’s sake is not perceived as bringing value to teachers.”

The executive summary was released as the debate over instructional management took some new turns.

First, the Albertson Foundation announced that it would release the final $4.5 million in grants for Schoolnet — the last installment in a three-year, $21 million grant. But the foundation said the money would be released in increments, based on whether the third year of the pilot meets “measurable benchmarks.” The state is putting a matching $4.5 million of taxpayer money into Schoolnet.

Second, a legislative interim committee spent some of its third and final hearing taking another look at student data systems. (A review of data systems — punctuated by sharp criticism of Schoolnet — marked the committee’s first meeting on Sept. 12.)

On Tuesday, lawmakers heard testimonials from officials in two school districts, who said they are getting more timely, accurate data through a different student data system, Mileposts, which was developed in the Blaine County School District and is marketed by Boise-based Silverback Learning Solutions. Thirty Idaho school districts are using Mileposts — at a cost of $5 per student — even though Schoolnet is free for use.

On Tuesday, lawmakers also heard from deputy superintendent Roger Quarles, the state’s point man on the Schoolnet pilot.  He stressed the importance of fixing system glitches — so teachers will be willing to try the system or give it a second chance. And after some high-level meetings between the Education Department and Pearson, he expressed confidence that the two parties are working together.

“We’re learning,” he said, “and we’ve come a long way in this effort.”

More reading: More from Tuesday’s interim committee hearing, at the EDge’s live blog.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

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