Tracking student engagement and enrollment during distance learning

Tracking Attendance and Engagement During Distance Learning

By the EdTec Data Team 

August 18, 2020

This past spring, many schools learned that tracking student attendance and engagement during distance learning can be a complicated and often messy process. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be! There are many ways to track attendance and engagement in this new learning environment, and you’ll be in better shape if you clearly define which methods your school will use from the start. Accurate data is not only necessary for reporting purposes, it will also help your school to identify students who are not engaging and risk falling behind. We’ve put together a few tips to help schools get a plan in place to track student attendance and engagement this school year.


#1 Continue to take attendance on a daily basis 

Most schools need to collect daily attendance to provide evidence of whether a student is present or absent to fulfill state, district, and/or other reporting requirements. This data is also important so that school leaders and teachers have an accurate picture of which students are participating in distance learning and which are not. This data can be used to inform optimal resource allocation and determine the appropriate interventions and supports for those students who need it most.


#2 Develop a consistent process for taking attendance that can be applied across learning models 

Schools will likely switch between different instructional models during the 2020-2021 school year, so there should be processes and systems that allow for a seamless transition in attendance recording. To minimize confusion, consider setting up a daily Advisory or Homeroom class that can be used for taking attendance both when the school is offering fully remote instruction and when the school is ready to transition to a hybrid model.


#3 Have a system in place for tracking in-person attendance versus virtual attendance 

Even if your school intends to or has already reopened with fully remote learning, plan to have separate codes in place if, and when, the school returns to some form of in-person instruction. Given the vastly different nature of remote learning, the ability to distinguish between and report on the two types of attendance will help schools identify students who may require additional resources and support. Keeping your attendance system as clear as possible will help ease any confusion when in-person instruction resumes.


#4 Rely on multiple sources of information to document and verify student engagement 

While the guidance on what qualifies as sufficient documentation of student engagement varies across districts and is evolving, schools should keep track of and be able to demonstrate how students and teachers are being held accountable to one another.

Some sources might include:

  • Gradebook assignments and assignment scores
  • Log in records and log in duration from learning platforms or student portals
  • Daily logs (electronic or paper) that can be saved or stored in a student’s file
  • Online polls or chat history
  • Attendee logs from video or audio calls

If your school uses PowerSchool or Aeries as a student information system, you can reach out to our school data experts for ideas about how to prepare your system for the new school year.

Having a clear plan in place to monitor student attendance and engagement will help your school to collect accurate data for reporting as well as determine which students may need additional support to keep them engaged and learning. How is your school tracking student attendance and engagement? Let us know in the comment section below!

California Charters, Stay Calm and Focus on Your LCAP Submission and the 2019 Dashboard!

By Jennifer Reyes, Ed.d., Educational Support Services Manager; Chris Lim, Senior Director of Data Management; and Annice Weinstein, Senior Manager, Assessment Data and Analysis 

April 16, 2019

California charter leaders, as you enter the last few months of the school year, pay attention to these important tasks to help you stay on top of your LCAP submission as well as ensure accurate reporting on the 2019 Dashboard.

CALPADS Submissions and the Dashboard

Demographic data reported to CALPADS informs the subgroup information reported on the CA School Dashboard. The CA Department of Education (CDE) typically extracts this information shortly after CAASPP testing is completed, so review the 8.1 ODS report in CALPADS to be sure the right demographic information is reported for each student: race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, homeless, foster, English learner, and disability status. For corrections, update the information in your student information system (SIS) first, then push an updated extract up to CALPADS, so the original source of your data (your SIS) is accurate and matches what’s in CALPADS.

We also recommend you push up an enrollment update to CALPADS prior to testing to make sure all students enrolled at your school are represented in TOMS.

The end-of-year submissions (EOY 1, 2, and 3) provide information on program eligibility, chronic absenteeism, suspension rate, and other disciplinary incidents, as well as college and career readiness. EOY information is also used to determine graduation rates along with cumulative enrollment, which the CDE uses to determine which students will factor into each of the Dashboard calculations.

LCAP Annual Update

Coordinate with your staff to gather the data necessary to update all the measurable outcomes defined in your LCAP. You’ll notice that some of the measures may be a year old (SBAC scores or graduation rate from 2017-18),but do your best to gather current data when available (example: local assessment data). Gathering the data early will give you a chance to share progress with your stakeholders and get their feedback, as well as use the data to determine if the actions or services you implemented are showing the results you anticipated. If they aren’t, this is the perfect time to update your plans in the 2019-20 LCAP.

If you haven’t been coding your finances to align with your LCAP goals, actions, and services throughout the year, you’ll need to start reviewing your general ledger to identify how each of the expenses line up with your LCAP. The Annual Update requires you to include your estimated actual expenditures for each action/service, including the funding source (base, supplemental/concentration, title funds, CSI), so this task can take some time.

It’s also a good time to start planning for that final round of stakeholder engagement prior to Board approval.  This will allow you to get quality input on your draft LCAP so that your entire school community is represented in the plan.  You will be able to include these efforts in the stakeholder engagement section and show that you are meeting this LCAP requirement.

One last item to start preparing is your responses to how you’ve addressed each of the local indicators. You will need to present the information at a regularly scheduled board meeting either at the end of this school year or the start of the next school year. Your overall score – Standard Met or Standard Not Met – will be entered by your Dashboard Coordinator next fall, but since you will be including that information in the LCAP Annual Update, it makes sense to prepare your narratives for the Dashboard local indicator reporting at the end of 2018-19.

The end of the school year will be here before we know it! We recommend planning ahead and allotting time to get these items right, as they have a significant impact on your school. For additional questions on the LCAP, Dashboard, or CALPADS submissions, please contact

California Charters, Know the Impact of Participation Rate on Your School’s Academic Indicators!

By Annice Weinstein, Senior Manager, Assessment Data and Analysis

March 29, 2019

In 2018, the California Department of Education added participation rate as a factor into the calculations for the Academic Indicators on the CA School Dashboard. But how exactly does that affect your school?

For both ELA and Math, the goal is to have a participation rate of 95% or higher on the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments (SBAC) and the California Alternate Assessments (CAAs.) If the participation rate falls below 95%, a fourth of a point (.25) is deducted from the Distance from Standard (DFS) for that subject for each percentage point below the target 95%.

For example, if a school had a participation rate of 91% on the SBAC/CAA ELA and a DFS in ELA of 9:

95% – 91% = 4 (points below the target participation rate)

4 x .25 = 1 (deduction amount from the DFS)

9 – 1 = Adjusted DFS of 8

Participation rate is calculated for every subgroup with 11 or more students and factored into the Academic Indicators for all reported Dashboard subgroups.

The following students are not included in the participation rate calculation: students absent from testing due to a significant medical emergency who are also flagged with the medical emergency condition code on the CAASPP file, and for the ELA portion of the SBAC/CAA, English learners enrolled in a U.S. school for less than one year. Parent waivers do not exempt students from the participation rate calculations.

Schools are also responsible for testing students who transfer in during the beginning 14-day grade period or during the Accountability Testing Window. These students will be included in the participation rate calculation. Schools are not responsible for testing students who transfer in during the ending 14-day grace period or transfer out during the beginning 14-day grace period. However, schools are responsible for testing students who transfer out during the Accountability Testing Window or during the ending 14-day grace period.

To see how participation rate may have affected your school’s Academic Indicators in 2018, schoolwide and for each significant subgroup, enter your school name into the box on this site:!/vizhome/2018_Participation_Rate_Impact/ParticipationRateDashboard

Understanding the LCAP’s Increased or Improved Services Requirement

By Jennifer Reyes, Ed.D., Educational Support Services Manager

January 15, 2019

California school leaders, are you confused about the LCAP’s increased or improved services requirement?

If so, you’re not alone!  Read on for a breakdown of the basics of this critical LCAP component.

Unduplicated Pupils

To begin, a charter school’s unduplicated count refers to the total number of students who belong to one or more of the groups identified for additional funding under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF):  Low Income (measured by Free/Reduced Lunch eligibility), English Learner, and Foster Youth.  Unduplicated simply means that any student in one or more of these groups would only be counted once in the calculation.

The unduplicated pupil count is used to determine the amount of supplemental and concentration funds the charter school will receive under LCFF.  Charter schools receive these additional funds up to a maximum of the unduplicated percentage of the school district in which they reside.

To illustrate, a charter school of 400 students may have a total of 320 unduplicated pupils. This school has 320 students who meet one or more criteria for unduplicated pupils.  Rather than add together the school’s 310 students who are eligible for free/reduced lunch, its 50 English Learners, and its five foster youth, the formula counts each student just once – even those who meet more than one criteria – for a total of 320 of the 400 enrolled students, or an Unduplicated Pupil Percentage (UPP) of 80%.

Alternate UPP Example

Total student population:  4

  • Student 1- Free/Reduced Lunch-eligible
  • Student 2- Free/Reduced Lunch-eligible and English Learner
  • Student 3- Free/Reduced Lunch-eligible and Foster Youth
  • Student 4- Meets no unduplicated pupil criteria

Unduplicated Pupil Count:  3

UPP: ¾=75%

Now, if the district the charter school resides in has an equal or higher UPP, the school will receive funds for its own full count. For example, if your UPP is 80% and the district your school resides in has a UPP of 90%, your UPP will be capped at 80%. However, if the district percentage is lower, the school will receive funding at the district percentage. For example, if your UPP is 80% but the district your school resides in has a UPP of 45%, your UPP will be capped at 45%.

Minimum Proportionality

Minimum proportionality refers to the proportion of supplemental and concentration funds to base funds the school receives. Districts and charter schools are required to state and justify how they have used the supplemental and concentration funds to increase or improve services for the unduplicated student population by at least the proportion of additional funds received.

For example, if a school receives $10,000,000 in total LCFF revenue, and based on its unduplicated student population receives $1,000,000 in supplemental and concentration funding, then its Minimum Proportionality Percentage (MPP) would be 10%.  This school needs to demonstrate how it has increased or improved services for its unduplicated student population, in quantity or quality, by at least ten percent.

MPP Example

All other LCFF Funding (less TIIG & Transportation):  $10,000,000

Supplemental and Concentration Funds: $1,000,000

MPP ($1,000,000/$10,000,000):  10%

How can a charter school best demonstrate that it has increased or improved services for its unduplicated pupils?  In the LCAP, each action or service must be identified as contributing or not contributing to the increased/improved services requirement.  Those contributing actions/services are then identified as being applied school-wide or limited to the unduplicated student population.

Increased or Improved Services Section Requirements

Here are the items a charter school must include in the LCAP under DIISUP:

  • The dollar amount of funds generated by unduplicated students.
  • The Minimum Proportionality Percentage (MPP) reflecting the proportion of funds generated by unduplicated pupils.
  • If enrollment for unduplicated pupils is above 55%, for services that are applied schoolwide, include a description of how the services are principally directed  and effective.  For unduplicated counts below 55%, for services that are applied schoolwide, include a description of how services provided are the most effective use of funds to meet the goals of the unduplicated pupils.  Provide the basis for this determination, any alternatives considered, plus supporting theory, experience, or research.

Examples of Actions and Services

Some examples we have seen of actions and services targeting unduplicated pupils:

  • Restorative justice programs to facilitate communication, and understand barriers/challenges
  • Paperwork party: guidance on completing college or financial aid applications
  • Academic counseling and transcript analysis
  • Health & wellness education workshops for families
  • Multi-disciplinary support teams
  • Connecting families to community resources
  • Methods for differentiating instruction
  • Training on how children respond to trauma
  • Training on social-emotional skills (particularly impulse control and empathy) or an SEL curriculum

Get Organized and Share Your Great Work!

A charter school or district needs to be able to show, through its LCAP, how it is appropriately utilizing the additional funds received to support unduplicated pupils.  Recent news coverage has spotlighted both charter and district examples where funds are underutilized or unaccounted for in LCAPs.  An August 2018 report by Public Advocates found that not one of the 43 California charter school LCAPs it reviewed had properly documented how the schools were increasing or improving services for unduplicated pupils.  In our experience with schools, there are often many innovative approaches and programs in place to serve unduplicated pupils, and our work together is a matter of organizing the information to meet the LCAP requirements and sharing success stories.

Why Now is the Best Time to Revise Your LCAP for Next Year!

by Jennifer Reyes, Ed.D., Educational Support Services Manager

October 2, 2018

California charter schools, think back to your experience updating your 17-18 LCAP.  Did you feel overwhelmed by too many goals and metrics?  Outdated actions and services?  Unclear budgeted expenditures?  Lack of available data for any of the sections?  If you experienced any of these frustrations, now is a great time to work on revising your 19-20 LCAP.

Why now? 

A central tenet of the Local Control Funding Formula is the engagement of all stakeholders in the process of updating and revising a school or district’s LCAP.  Starting the process now allows you time to bring the needs to your advisory bodies, Board, staff, parents, and secondary students.  If you work on the LCAP now you can engage your school site council in understanding the LCAP and develop proposed changes. Then you can bring it to the school community for input all in time for a smooth update next spring.

By contrast, schools that rush through changes in the spring may find there is no time to consider all relevant data and develop a plan that has full support and staying power.

What to do?

Here are some examples of changes schools can make to increase the relevance of the LCAP and improve the process:

  • Organize your metrics under a few (3-5) powerful goals that all stakeholders can articulate.
  • Set up your financials according to LCFF guidelines for base, supplemental, and concentration funds.
  • Update your actions and services to convey your school’s current initiatives.

A fall or winter revision also frees up the time you need to focus your spring efforts on the 18-19 LCAP Update that is due July 1. You will need to collect and analyze data from the current academic year during this time.  The LCAP process provides greater flexibility to LEAs to plan and measure their success, but at the same time demands a new level of organization, involvement, and transparency.  If your LCAP could use some improvement, there is no time like the present to get started!

If you have any questions about your LCAP or LCAP Support Services, feel free to reach out to Jennifer by filling out this form and she will get back to you.

CALPADS Update for CA Charter Schools

By Gerald Cockrell, Data and Categorical Program Specialist

September 19, 2018

For California charter schools, it can be hard to stay on top of all the changes to CALPADS. Use the list below as an easy checklist to make sure your school isn’t forgetting anything this year. Check out our previous CALPADS post to see our list of the most important CALPADS reports to prepare for Fall 1.

Important Changes to CALPADS for the 18/19 School Year

  • There are new CALPADS submission certification deadlines for ‘18-‘19 and they are much earlier than previous years. Please plan accordingly, especially for the Fall 1 submission which now ends around Thanksgiving instead of the end of January.
    • Fall 1 Certification Deadline: 11/21/18
    • Fall 1 Amendment Window Deadline: 12/7/18
    • Fall 2 Certification Deadline: 2/1/19 (No Amendment Window)
    • EOY 1 – EOY 3 Certification Deadline: 8/17/19 (No Amendment Window)
  • In addition to the shorter submission windows CALPADS also has a significant outage planned for 9/21-10/01 to make major system changes. Please plan accordingly. It’s also important to get any SSID’s or other information from CALPADS you may need for assessment or ELPAC testing.
  • New students with a non-English primary language must have an ‘18-‘19 enrollment record and a “TBD” SELA record in CALPADS in order for them to show up in TOMS and be tested with the Initial ELPAC.
  • This update is not new, but it is important enough to warrant an annual reminder: all National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Free and Reduced Price Meal (FRPM) applications for the year MUST BE RECEIVED BY 10/31/18 for the student eligibility to count towards your official FRPM or LCFF Unduplicated counts.

To help you prepare for Fall 1 and make sure your charter school’s data is accurate for funding and accountability, check out our previous CALPADS post about the most important CALPADS reports.

We Need Proof: Capture & Demonstrate Student Performance across a Data Spectrum

by Annice Weinstein, Senior Manager, Assessment Data and Analysis 

May 23, 2018

With so much going on at your charter school on a day-to-day basis, it can be difficult to remember what data your staff needs to track throughout the year. This data is necessary to stay on top of accountability requirements and be able to demonstrate student performance to your stakeholders, as well as for your LCAP, charter renewal, WASC, and grants. This article takes a step-by-step approach to help you evaluate your data needs and establish processes for collecting that data.

Start with your Charter

When your school’s founding team wrote the charter, they laid the foundation for what the school aims to accomplish, student performance goals, and how it plans to measure its progress over the duration of the charter period. Because your LCAP is an annual reflection of the school’s performance and plan for improvement, aligning the goals and measurable pupil outcomes in your LCAP to your charter is critical. This will also save you time when you renew your charter, as aligning the two documents is a requirement for renewal.

As a next step, you’ll need to track progress towards the measurable outcomes you set in your LCAP. For example, if one of your student performance goals is that all students enrolled at your school since ninth grade will graduate and be accepted to college, then you need to have processes in place to track progress towards graduation requirements and college acceptance rates. To accomplish this, you could assign a member of your data team to collaborate with the school’s guidance counselors and college counselors to determine the best way to gather this information. If one of your metrics for academic achievement is that all students enrolled at your school since kindergarten will be reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, then you need to have processes in place to track reading levels for a cohort of students over time.

Data Integrity

You won’t be able to evaluate your progress and student performance toward LCAP goals and tell your school’s story without consistent, reliable data. What’s more, your CALPADS data will be used to calculate the CA School Dashboard state indicators, so it’s extremely important that it’s complete and accurate. Review all CALPADS certification reports carefully. Take the time to download all student-level state test results from TOMS, CELDT, ELPAC, and testing systems to a safe place at your school. The data may not always be available to download when you need it; for example, TOMS only houses two historical years of data.

For all local test data, make sure to include student IDs so you can calculate longitudinal progress. Include proficiency levels where applicable to make it easy to determine the percentage of students on grade level or meeting the standard. Make sure the team in charge of data at your school is aware of the important role they play in compliance requirements and storytelling, and work with them to establish standard processes for tracking and reporting all data. You’ll want to make sure that everyone involved in these processes is kept informed of critical updates and timelines.

Use Data to Tell Your Story

CA School Dashboard Indicators

When it comes time to tell your story, it’s important to present the school’s performance in a clear, honest, effective way. In addition to the good news, you’ll also need to communicate dips in performance and indications of achievement gaps. You can use your Dashboard indicators to identify achievement gaps by identifying any student groups performing two or more levels below the school’s overall performance. You should also be prepared to explain how you are using data to assist in improving performance or closing the achievement gap.

Your Dashboard indicators are also useful for identifying and highlighting progress in student performance, such as an improvement in the test performance of English Learners. Whenever possible, try to identify specific programs or lack of programs that can be tied to progress or setbacks; this will weave a thorough story and set the stage for you to provide related recommendations about the best way to allocate resources going forward.

Local Metrics

You can also use local metrics to highlight your school’s performance. If you’ve had success in a particular area, you’ll want to make sure to share this with your stakeholders. Here are a few examples of metrics that might make sense for your school to track and report:

  • College Application, Acceptance, or College-Going Rate
  • AP Course Enrollment or AP Pass Rate
  • GPA
  • Participation in Programs (extracurricular activities, arts & science programs, leadership)
  • SAT/ACT Scores
  • Fundraising Success
  • Community Service Hours
  • Re-Enrollment Rate or Waitlist Count (to indicate satisfaction with or interest in your school)
  • Results of Parent/Student Surveys

Performance Analysis

There are two main ways to demonstrate student performance when telling your school’s story: longitudinal progress and comparison view. The longitudinal view compares performance for the same set of students over time. The comparison view shows school-wide performance by grade level or subgroup compared to demographically similar, resident, or district schools. When comparing performance, be sure to select comparison schools based on specific criteria such as similar demographics or geographic proximity. In the end, it all goes back to data integrity, as both views depend on access to complete, accurate data.


The most effective way to prepare to demonstrate student performance at your school is to outline a data collection strategy and plan. Make sure the relevant staff are on the same page regarding your school’s goals and implementation of those goals, so you are capturing the information you need to tell a powerful story. Schedule time throughout the school year to review progress on the measures established in your LCAP, accurately maintain your CALPADS data, and thoroughly understand your Dashboard. All of this will prepare you to explain both the progress and struggles reflected in your data.

Find out more about EdTec’s Student Performance Services.

Get Your School’s Performance Data Renewal Ready!

By Annice Weinstein, Senior Manager, Assessment Data & Analysis

December 14, 2017

Charter renewal is a very time intensive process, and it can be even more demanding if you haven’t already collected the necessary performance data. The following three steps will set you up to have your data ready when the time comes to start working on your renewal petition, so you can focus your energy on putting together a sound analysis and a strong narrative that highlight your school’s achievements!

  • Download your student level data files for state tests as soon as the state makes them available. These files may not be available in your account when it’s time for renewal, so it’s best to download the files annually as they are released. For example, the Test Operations Management System (TOMS) currently stores just two years of summative test results, so make sure to have your LEA CAASPP coordinator download the files as soon as the state indicates they are ready. You can find the files in TOMS ( under Reports (on the left), LEA Reports. Scroll down to the bottom to download the Student Results Report-Student Score Data Extract for each year available. CalTAC has recently removed the 2014-15 files, so you may need to contact them directly if you didn’t already download these files. You may reach CalTAC at 800-955-2954 or
  • Keep track of your comparison schools. Does your authorizer require comparisons to specific schools? Are there other schools in your area, or schools with demographics or programs similar to yours, that you strive to outperform? If most of the relevant comparison schools are within the same district, take a look at the California School Dashboard Five-by-Five grids to see how your school stacks up on the Dashboard indicators: And keep an eye on your Academic Accountability Report with the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA): CCSA produces a Similar Students Measure that will give you an idea of how your school’s performance on the SBAC compares to that of demographically similar schools.
  • Select LCAP performance metrics that track longitudinal progress for the same set of students. This will help you stay on track with annual data collection and give you a boost when you want to share your longitudinal progress on local assessments with your authorizers. The metrics can include performance on NWEA MAP, developmental reading assessments, or i-Ready. Working the tests into your LCAP metrics is a good way to ensure that you review progress annually and have the data necessary for your renewal.

Keep Calm and Review Your CALPADS Reports!

By Gerald Cockrell, Data and Categorical Program Specialist

November 13, 2017

Given the large amount of data reported for CALPADS Fall I, and the multitude of certification reports available, it can be difficult to determine which data are the most important and where to find them!  To help ease the frustration, we’ve created a list of the most important reports and included detail about the information each report contains and who should be reviewing them.

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There are many other reports available as well, but starting with the ones listed in this table will provide a clear view of the data that affect your funding and accountability.  As a reminder, special attention should be paid to FRPM data, EL data, and high school graduate data.

If you have any concerns about the data being reported for Fall I, feel free to reach out to EdTec’s data team to discuss how we can help. You can reach Gerald at, or 213.292. 6620 x414.

HELP! I need a Student Information System! Practical Considerations for Today’s Charter School Leaders

By Chris Lim, Director of Data Management, EdTec 

Originally published April 2013

In the current educational climate, it’s essential that a school has the ability to track, organize and report on its data. From managing day-to-day operations to meeting various reporting requirements, it has become virtually impossible to run a school effectively without an efficient data management system in place. Some schools valiantly try to
manage their data manually, but this approach is both time-consuming and error-prone, and they find themselves reconciling data from several different systems and spreadsheets. Schools that try to get by without an established Student Information System in their first year of operation find it hard enough to understand the reporting requirements, let alone manage all the data that is associated with them.

A Student Information System (SIS) is a software application that a school uses to manage its data. Ideally, an SIS allows a school to efficiently manage and track a number of crucial pieces of its operations, including scheduling, attendance, grading and reporting. For a new charter school operator, choosing the system that best fits the needs of the organization can have a profound effect on how smoothly the school runs.

This spring, we spoke with decision-makers at a handful of both new and established California charter schools about their experiences with data management, in an effort to glean some wisdom from those who have already embarked on the road to SIS evaluation and implementation. We learned that as they grow, high-performing charter schools come to understand the importance of data and how it can help school leaders make better decisions for their schools. We hope the information below helps recently-approved and new schools in their search for the best Student Information System to fit their unique needs. As we’ll learn, just like so many other aspects of the charter world: it’s never one-size-fits-all.

Time’s Up. Put Down Your Calculator.

The San Carlos Charter Learning Center (CLC) was granted the very first California state charter number (#001) in February 1993, making it the oldest charter school in California and one of the oldest charter schools in the United States. Stacy Emory, Director of Curriculum and Resources, explains the value of an SIS for her school: “Even with basic tasks like pulling up a class list, or having a way to track student medical information with something other than paper binders, having an SIS made all of these routine tasks easier and allowed us to focus on more important things.” Given all of the other resource constraints charter schools typically face, manual data management isn’t the best use of any staff member’s time.

It’s often hard for teachers and administrators to understand why so much data needs to be collected and how it all really matters at the end of the day. There are many answers, but one simple one: Reporting poor data to the CA Department of Education (CDE) can have disastrous implications for a school’s funding stream. Failing to report data to the CDE in a timely manner can be grounds for a charter to be revoked. Not having key student performance data readily available can severely reduce a school’s chances of a successful renewal.

For a new charter school, mulling through the various SIS options and choosing the best fit can be a daunting task. Financial costs aside, there are a number of other factors that schools must consider when trying to figure out which Student Information System is the best fit for the school and its stakeholders. Laurie Inman, Chief Executive and Academic Officer at Apple Academy Charter Public Schools in Los Angeles, which opened in fall 2012, says, “An SIS allows for many functions to be done much more efficiently. I would never suggest a manual route over having an SIS – it is neither cost-effective nor the best use of human resources.”

Although a student information system isn’t a panacea, it should be the cornerstone of any school’s data strategy. An SIS will be the main system of record when it comes to students, teachers and staff, which will ultimately flow to any other systems a school uses.

It Has To Work for Everybody

One crucial thing to understand when evaluating SIS options is that the system must work for an assortment of end-users, not just school leadership. Heather Berkley, Systems Project Manager at Aspire Public Schools, explained how their organization defined system evaluation criteria based on the use cases for each of their major end-user groups:

  1. For Office Managers – focus on enrollment & attendance verification functionality
  2. For Teachers – focus on gradebook, report card and attendance-taking
  3. For Registrar & Administrative Staff – focus on course catalog, transcript and discipline management
  4. For District – focus on ensuring the SIS can capture data that may be required from the authorizer as a part of any MOU they have with the school
  5. For Everyone – focus on mass import/export and mass update functionality, full access to import/export data, site stability, scalability and support services

Berkley noted that mass handling functionality is hugely important because without it, schools end up spending considerably more time on basic functions – scheduling, attendance reconciliation, and contact updates. Additionally, the interface itself must be a user-friendly experience with functionality organized in an intuitive manner to ease the training and adoption burden. After all, everybody in your organization will be coming in with different kinds of knowledge and different levels of tech-savvy. It’s crucial that everybody who will be working with the SIS feels comfortable and that you take all those different responsibilities, personalities and capabilities into account.

Compliance Broke the Camel’s Back

In California, average daily attendance, or ADA, accounts for as much as 60% of a school’s annual funding. The process for reporting ADA can vary from school to school depending on the school’s authorizer, the type of program offered (site-based vs. independent study, etc.) and the grade levels served. Since attendance makes up such a large percentage of a school’s total funding, school leaders need to evaluate whether they can report their school’s attendance accurately while meeting all the necessary compliance requirements.

One of the first things to confirm when evaluating an SIS is whether or not it supports the State data reporting system, known as CALPADS here in California. San Carlos Charter Learning Center’s Stacy Emory explains, “As the demand for data has increased from the state, having a central place where we can easily pull out the data we need has become more and more valuable over time. It’s also extremely important to know that our SIS routinely stays up to date with all of these State data reporting requirements.”

CALPADS was created to meet federal requirements as outlined in No Child Left Behind and brought about a number of changes in the scope and the methods in which data must be reported to the State. Starting in 2009, California began requiring schools to submit student-level data to CALPADS. In addition to student data, CALPADS now asks for staff-level data, course enrollment and completion data, discipline data and more. Tracking all this data and understanding the relationship between the different sets of data can be onerous for even the most seasoned data analysts.

The best Student Information Systems have reporting mechanisms that allow schools to extract the data that needs to be reported for each of the various submissions.  More importantly, the better systems will produce extracts that are in a format that can be read by CALPADS.  In addition, some systems have built-in tools that allow a user to identify missing data or flag data that violates specific “business rules” in CALPADS. To an office manager or an administrative clerk, these tools become invaluable very quickly.

One area that is often overlooked is a vendor’s commitment to keeping their SIS up-to-date with the state’s requirements. As Aspire’s Heather Berkley notes: “Continuous product development to remain current with the changing state requirements and customer requested enhancements is essential.” If a vendor doesn’t keep up with the requirements, you may end up working with a system that isn’t able to pull the data you need, or even worse, pull incorrect data. Lack of ongoing support along these lines can end up meaning more work for your school staff if the data coming out of your system can’t be reasonably relied upon. Given the stakes involved, a school can’t afford to get a system that is only partially supported or inconsistently supported.


·         Can teachers take attendance simply and effectively with the system?

·         Does the system provide tools to evaluate whether attendance is being submitted?

·         Does the system have tools to identify and resolve attendance errors?

·         Can the system generate weekly attendance rosters?

·         Can the system generate monthly attendance summaries and supporting detail reports?

·         Does the system allow you to configure how attendance is being calculated and reported?

Your Model Determines Your System

School leaders often ask the EdTec Data team: “What’s the best Student Information System out there?” The most honest answer is, “It depends.” Charter schools come in all different shapes and sizes and on top of that, they each choose a different approach when it comes to educating their students. Given this variability, an SIS that works for one type of school could be a complete disaster for another.  Finding the “best” system is really about finding a system that best fits your school’s instructional model and instructional goals.

Let’s look at the unique SIS needs of a growing charter educational model, full-time independent study…

With a full-time independent study program, students are not instructed inside a classroom but instead are assigned work to be completed outside of the classroom. Often, a student will never physically meet the teacher who has assigned the work to him or her. Nevertheless, a credentialed teacher still evaluates the completed work to determine whether the student should receive academic credit and attendance credit. Clearly, the documentation requirements around independent study are far more burdensome than they are for traditional schools.

For example, independent study schools must keep copies of signed master agreements from each student, a daily work log, and samples of the student’s work. Unfortunately, most Student Information Systems are designed for traditional, site-based schools. For schools that run a full-time independent study program, EdTec typically refer them to an SIS that is designed for independent study programs even if other SIS’s have more features. A system that is designed with independent study schools in mind has built-in functionality to help manage the school’s master agreements with all its students. Such a system would also allow teachers to track gradebook assignments against the master agreement and have functionality for students and parents in keeping a daily activity log. It’s fairly obvious that most site-based schools have no need for this type of functionality, but for independent study schools, it’s a show-stopper if these features are missing. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many features an SIS has if it can’t natively support your school’s core operations and instructional model.

New Kids on the Block:  Common Core and Blended Learning

With the move nationally to Common Core standards, many schools will begin shifting away from a traditional-based grading model to a more standards-based model. If a school chooses to “grade” students based on standards, it’s important that a school chooses an SIS that supports standards-based grading. Most SIS’s should have this functionality available but a school should evaluate how each system approaches it from the standpoint of students, teachers, and administrators. Does the system allow for the level of granularity and flexibility your school may need? Can sub-standards be rolled up to an overall standard score? Can an assignment be associated with multiple standards and vice versa? Can the standards be easily reported out of the system for report cards, progress reports, etc.? The answers to these questions will vary from school to school but knowing the answers to these questions will help you choose the SIS that best fits your grading model.

Finally, there is a growing interest in the charter school space around blended learning models. In a blended learning model, traditional classroom learning is supplemented by online learning and mobile learning. Although the literature is still relatively mixed on how effective this model is, more and more schools are finding ways to incorporate elements of this model into their traditional curriculum. If your school plans to offer a blended learning program, it’s important that you choose a platform that can support the type of program you envision. Given that there are very few SIS’s that can support a blended learning model at the moment, it’s actually more important that you find an SIS that can integrate with the platform you’re using. One of the vendors we reached out to had this to say: “To address the growing demand for blended learning models, we’re committed to developing education content and resources that can be turned on through our various K-12 platforms. Our plans include creating complete interoperability between our SIS and these platforms.” Ultimately, if a school is planning to deliver curriculum through non-traditional methods, it should be looking for an SIS that is open, or at the very least, one that provides a framework for integrating with these other educational support systems.

Hello Operator

Charter schools typically do not have the luxury of hiring a local SIS expert to manage all of their data needs. And no matter how intuitive or user-friendly an SIS may be, school staff will inevitably need help, whether that involves training on new features or troubleshooting everyday issues and software bugs. Therefore, it pays to understand the type and level of support you can expect to get with the purchase of the system in order to get the most out of it. Heather Berkley, at Aspire, notes, “Sufficient customer support is a necessity. We’re putting our trust in a vendor that is responsible for critical student data; it’s imperative that they include training and technical/development staff who will be there to provide the level of service necessary for that.”

Choosing an SIS should be seen as a long-term investment and part of that investment involves making sure resources are available to ensure your staff will have the support necessary to help them succeed.


·         How comprehensive is the initial training?

·         How can my staff get help?

·         How responsive is the support staff?

·         Are resources such as an online knowledgebase or manual available?

·         Is there a strong community of users we can tap into?

·         Are there vendors who can provide comparable support or training services?

Growing Up Together

You want to choose a system that can grow with your school, so its important to try to anticipate what your school’s unique needs will be a few years down the road. As your school becomes more sophisticated, you may need to adopt additional software tailored to fit specific niches in your program, such as student assessment systems, behavioral management systems, application management systems, and student alert and notification systems. Since the intention is that the SIS you choose will be your system of record for the long haul, it’s important to choose a system that has the infrastructure in place to communicate with all of these other systems. A system that is open and emphasizes interoperability will allow your school to scale its service effectively as your organization grows.

Stacy Emory, Director of Curriculum and Resources at CLC reflects, “We started working with our SIS eight years ago – before that we had nothing, and we lost track of so much data. We’ve been around for 20 years now, and have alumni who are out of college! If we had an SIS from the beginning, we would be able to tap into it now. Unfortunately, we don’t have any records to look at for those students, which also means we can’t look at long-term trends or evaluate the long-term effectiveness of our program.”

In the midst of all the excitement surrounding your initial charter approval, it can be difficult to think about what your school’s needs may look like 3, 5, even 10 years down the line. Still, it’s important to choose vendors who can satisfy your changing needs over time, and to remember that those changes will be coming both internally – from the school itself, and externally – from the District or State level.

So, what if you want to change from one SIS to another SIS down the road? The EdTec Data team gets this question a lot, often from schools that have been in existence for quite some time. Most often, they get excited about some new functionality that’s available in another SIS, or they seem to think another SIS looks easier to use. Although these are definitely valid reasons to consider other systems, they are usually not valid reasons for actually making a switch. Each SIS database, and even the underlying logic of how the data is organized, can differ dramatically from system-to-system. As a result, data does not always migrate cleanly from one SIS to another. Even worse, some data cannot be migrated at all. In the latter case, EdTec has observed situations in which student schedules and student assignment scores from previous years could not be migrated to a new instance of the same SIS. If there is that much data loss from moving data within the same SIS, imagine the potential data loss that can result from migrating data between two different SIS’s. At the end of the day, a school needs to determine whether the new functionality they would get from a new system outweighs the risk to the integrity of their data.

“Why can’t we make it work this way?”   |   Making the Case for Customization


·         What is the vendor’s vision towards customization? Is the vendor more end-user centric or vendor-centric in this regard?

·         Does the system allow me to add fields to track information (i.e. student, staff, course) that is unique to my school?

·         Is it easy for me to create customized reports if the ones included by the vendor don’t suit my needs?

·         Does the system allow me to make modifications to the interface or change the user experience?

Not to belabor the point, but, each charter school is unique. Because of this, the ability to customize a system to fit your school’s particular needs can play a big part in deciding which SIS to choose. Customization can be something as simple as being able to set up a field to track data that isn’t included out-of-the-box to something as complex as altering the SIS’s interface and building in new logic around how the data flows through your system. When schools consider purchasing an SIS, they’re usually concerned about the core functionality of an SIS and aren’t necessarily concerned with the need to personalize or customize their experience within their SIS for the first couple of years. But invariably, as a school grows, the school and its various stakeholders will want and need to measure their students in non-traditional ways, or will want to make the experience within their SIS more consistent with the way the school actually operates. This isn’t possible if the SIS doesn’t allow the end-user to control the customization process. When this happens, it often puts a school at the mercy of the vendor when it comes to enhancing their SIS. For example, even if a vendor’s system can be customized, the customization itself will need to be implemented by the vendor and not the end-user – and usually at a cost that is prohibitive for most charter schools.

Picking a Winner

As the charter school movement continues to grow, the number of options available to perform crucial school operational functions will continue to expand. The purpose of any student information system is to make your job easier, but in this day and age, the amount of data itself, and the requirements around reporting all that data, can be overwhelming. CLC’s Stacy Emory, Director of Curriculum and Resources: “The depth of data we’re talking about nowadays requires the right toolkit to mine it. We’ve used a combination of our SIS’s online resource, customer support and third party support to make sure we were using the SIS the way it was designed to be used.” As you evaluate your options, keep in mind that the one you choose just needs to work best for you and your stakeholders. The type of school you run and the unique ways it will grow in the coming years, the make-up of your staff and their support needs, and the compliance requirements applicable to you will help determine the best fit.

To discuss your specific needs and learn more about the options that would best suit your school, contact Gerald Cockrell at