Aspire Public Schools was founded in 1998 by longtime public school educator Don Shalvey and Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Netflix founder Reed Hastings. Aspire now has 40-community based schools serving over 16,600 TK-12 students in California and Tennessee. Aspire’s work is motivated by its mission to open and operate small, high-quality charter schools in low-income neighborhoods, in order to increase the academic performance of underserved students, develop effective educators, share successful practices with other forward-thinking educators, and catalyze change in public schools.
Aspire began working with EdTec for student data services during the 2010-2011 school year. Initially EdTec provided back-end support for PowerSchool, Aspire’s primary Student Information System (SIS). In 2015, in partnership with Aspire’s Director of College Access and Success John Fanning, EdTec began work on a high school transcript improvement project to overhaul and correct long-standing issues related to GPA calculations and college credits. Technical limitations within PowerSchool’s GPA calculation functions made it impossible to automatically calculate weighted, un-weighted, and college-specific GPAs accurately on a consistent basis, thus affecting the integrity and fairness of students’ transcripts and college applications.
Ultimately this project was about student equity. The fact is that in order to understand how to navigate the complex post-secondary landscape in California, students and families need all of this GPA information, need it early, need to know how to use it, and need it to be accurate and trustworthy. This is especially critical for low-income students who cannot afford to hire expensive college coaches to work through these issues with them.
John began working closely with Ethan Hurdus, EdTec Data Systems Manager. After several rounds of brainstorming and some data cleanup, Ethan and his team were able to create new GPA and credit typing methods that worked with years of existing historical grade data, worked around technical limitations, and most importantly, consistently returned accurate GPA calculations on student transcripts. As a result of this project, academic and college counseling teams have renewed confidence in the accuracy of their transcripts and have been reassured that all students have equitable access to correct grade and GPA data for their post-secondary applications. In addition, help desk tickets related to GPA issues have decreased, and counseling teams are able to spend more of their time working with students and families directly instead of crunching GPA calculations by hand. John summed up his thoughts about working with EdTec to tackle this project:
“This was a complicated project with many moving parts that we needed to tackle a bit at a time due to other important priorities. I loved working with Ethan because he is totally up for a good challenge, is curious and smart, is at heart a learner himself, and is very patient. He developed and shared complex diagrams and flow charts to help us understand what was – and what was not – possible with PowerSchool’s infrastructure; asked great questions to help us better understand and then explain to him what we were trying to do; found creative ways around what appeared to be intractable technology limitations; and somehow was able to dive back in without missing a beat when we would find time to press forward. I am super proud of this work, and especially the way in which getting this foundational piece right is now enabling our counselors to work more closely with students and families around these data points, and is empowering those students and families to better understand how these numbers will present post-secondary opportunities, or not. It puts the power back in the hands of students and families – right where it belongs.”
While the scope of this project made it a significant challenge with high stakes for a substantial number of students, it ended up being one of Ethan’s favorites for a few reasons. “Aspire and John in particular were great partners throughout this project. It’s very rewarding to tackle a high-level problem like this and to come up with a unique solution that works robustly despite the significant constraints. I know with Aspire’s scale this sort of work has a huge impact on a very large number of students, but even if it just improved the college and career outcomes for a single student I’d consider it worthwhile. To this day my whiteboards are still covered with some of the problem solving tools we had to use to address this challenge.”
Learn more about Aspire at https://aspirepublicschools.org/