Today’s fast-paced, green-conscious digital world demands that educators and learning institutions electronically manage their day-to-day operations, replacing antiquated filing and cataloging systems. Through a student information system (SIS), districts can manage student data as well as provide other procedures that streamline how essential school processes get done while working toward building a successful learning establishment.
These information systems offer a multitude of capabilities to educational establishments from preschool on up through college. Besides keeping track of student data, a SIS can also commonly:
- Enroll new students.
- Register students for classes or courses.
- Document grades, including individual grades on assessments.
- Build student schedules.
- Maintain absences and other attendance.
- Record student medical information.
- Maintain student financial records.
- Display school meal plans.
- Enable correspondence between students and educators.
- Maintain discipline records.
- Create class and teacher schedules.
- Maintain student health records.
- Handle the admissions process.
- Save student transcripts.
- Create staff and teacher assignments.
- Store staff and teacher communications and websites.
- Maintain staff and teacher employment data.
- Provide a resource for parents/guardians and students to view and manage student data.
- Provide support for regulatory reporting and compliance.
- Proactively notify educational stakeholders when important events occur.
If you are considering a SIS to replace or upgrade your current system, here a few key questions to keep in mind:
Question: How does a SIS work?
Answer: Student information systems (also known as “SIS”) are typically web-based software applications created to help the exchange of structured information between students, parents, teachers and administrators in an educational setting. Though they vary in capability, size and scope, student information systems can provide:
- Cloud-based or on-premise technology.
- Functionality that is highly configurable.
- Regulatory reporting.
Many schools have limped along with old systems that don’t, or can’t, take care of all the school district’s needs. It is often expensive and highly difficult to modify these information systems to cater to the school’s requirements. Educational institutions are finding that web-based solutions such as a SIS are not only cost-effective, but they keep all student data in one location. To have a SIS in your school or institution, it should meet certain objectives:
- Coordinate data sources and process them through a feature that supports a single-time entry of student information.
- Encourage a strong relationship between students, parents, administrators and teachers.
- Ensure student data privacy, integrity and security.
- Support staff and faculty who perform complex and basic functions through simple work procedures and processes.
Question: What should I consider before upgrading or replacing a Student Information System?
Answer: There is a lot to do and understand before upgrading or replacing your school’s SIS, such as:
- Determining your educational establishment’s critical information needs.
- Creating a list of existing data and information gathering methods as well as a list of current data and information gathering processes and tools.
- Determining how information and data collected will be merged with the new SIS (check to see if your provider will do this for you).
- Reviewing your hardware’s current specifications to make sure they are a match for the new SIS software.
- Deciding the level of parent/guardian and student interaction desired.
- Comparing all your SIS options.
- Figuring out your goals as a district and if they can be measured in the SIS.
- Determining your regulatory reporting needs.
- Determining where you want the solution to be kept (on-premise, cloud).
- Examining your technical support structure to determine how support will be available when you need it.
- Examining your system’s features to make sure it includes collaborative technologies, mobile access, mobile apps, responsive design and other forward-looking technologies.
- Listening to other districts’
- Determining your district’s current pain points and understanding how the new system could remedy them.
- Understanding all costs associated with implementing a SIS including:
- Implementation and Set-up fees
- Licensing fee / SaaS
- Hardware and software
- Data Conversions
- Purchase and installation costs
- Security and monitoring
- Training and support
Question: How can I access my data?
Answer: A SIS provides users with quick access to their information and data while easily navigating the software on any compatible device and browser. Most of today’s student information systems are web-based; therefore, you can access your data from anywhere you can connect to the Internet. If your district desires, SIS data can also be accessed by other applications like a learning management system (LMS).
Question: Can a SIS also take care of the required regulatory reporting even when the requirements change?
Answer: Having a SIS that can meet state and federal OCR reporting requirements is extremely important. Depending on the state in which the district is located, administrators should have a good idea of what is expected to comply with the state, county and district in terms of regulatory reporting before they decide to replace or upgrade their student information system. Since it is quite common for requirements to change, most SIS programs can be built with this support, and automatic updates for your state should be included. However, regulatory compliance support varies by vendor. Some vendors may only update these reports occasionally and/or charge you a fee for it, so make sure of the cost beforehand.
Question: Is this system secure and functional on all browsers and electronic devices?
Answer: To keep up with the growing demands of on-the-go learning, a parent, student, teacher or administrator should be able to access data on a wide range of devices and browsers. However, there is always the concern about protecting student data. Here are a few ways to alleviate those fears:
- Make sure personal information and data are not sold for commercial or marketing uses.
- Security protections should be in place, such as the encryption of any personal data. This also includes required training for all persons with access to personal student data, as well as audit and security logs by an independent auditor.
- Parents should be allowed to see data collected from or about their children by the school or a vendor that has access to the school and its records.
- Strong enforcements should be in place to ensure any policy or law that protects student privacy is followed.
- Role-based and user-based securities can be defined by the district.
Student data collected and used by a student information system is also protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This federal law protects the privacy of all student education records at schools that receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education. This law also gives parents specific rights when it comes to their child’s education records such as:
- The right to review a student’s education data and records maintained by the school. However, schools are not required to give copies of such records unless for some reason the parents cannot view them. A surcharge may apply.
- The right to request that schools or educational establishments correct records which are believed to misleading or inaccurate.
The schools must receive written permission from parents before releasing student information to a third party. However, also under this law, schools are allowed to disclose information without permission to:
- Legitimately interested school officials.
- Schools to where a student is transferring.
- Certain officials for purposes of an audit or evaluation.
- Professionals associated with the student’s financial aid.
- Accredited organizations.
- Appropriate groups conducting research for or on behalf of the student’s school.
- When complying with a court or other lawful order or judgement.
- Health and safety officials in case of emergencies, as well as state and local authorities in regards to a certain law.
Question: What type of plans should a company have in place for backing up data, and how will I be supported during a system failure or natural disaster?
Answer: A comprehensive backup plan should be developed by the database administrator that includes the following checklist:
- Determine what information and data components should be backed up.
- Decide the correct type of backup for your data.
- Establish a backup schedule (most occur on weekends when students and staff are not at school).
- Determine where backups will be stored such as cloud, disk or transfer to tape; it’s ideal to store tapes off-site in case of disaster recovery.
- Create a backup retention policy.
Having a plan in place also means making sure your staff is properly trained to use the system. Even if your new SIS is “user-friendly,” it will still take trained individuals to run it properly. However, besides initial training, make sure to ask about ongoing training for staff and teachers. Since it is difficult to determine ahead of time how much future training will be needed, it’s best to include an ongoing training clause in your contract.
Question: What technology is SIS built on, and will it be updated regularly?
Answer: Most student information systems are long-term investments, so it’s important to make sure the technology will be safeguarded in the future and keep up with evolving trends, devices and integrations. Because students and parents are more engaged than previous generations, schools are providing them with more information than ever.
A SIS helps to organize that information and deliver it in a timely manner. Many systems are built on a foundation of advanced yet reliable technology that is able to meet current and future needs, but be sure to ask. Focus on student information systems that are built on reliable, proven technologies and be careful to avoid outdated, slow technology as well as cutting-edge, but unproven “boutique” technology. A good rule of thumb is to ask whether the solution is built on the same platform as leading enterprise applications across industries.
Question: What if I need the software to do something unique? Are custom programming services available?
Answer: Since no two school districts are the same, your school’s SIS may need to be customized. The goal of using a student information system isn’t only to collect student information and data. It is also to identify trends and patterns so educators can look at ways to improve student progress. Some additional questions to keep in mind when talking about customization are:
- Can this SIS add custom fields of staff or student information?
- Can users create or consolidate screens?
- Is it easy to create a custom report?
Question: Are there customization programs available for special education needs?
Answer: The educational needs for special education students are plentiful, and not every school district approaches those needs the same way. That’s why a SIS with a special education management solution is the best way to meet those challenges. In many special education cases, staff and teachers need to quickly access information and data to make effective decisions. By having customized technology to meet those special education needs, things like managing contact and meetings, as well as generating Individualized Education Programs (IEP) is easier. Your SIS should have some of the following tools for managing special education:
- Demographics to track student information.
- Web forms that are simple to fill out and file.
- Scheduler for staff and teachers to arrange and track special education meetings.
- Goals and objectives to write and keep track of.
- Medicaid billing that is automated and tracks reimbursements.
- Advanced reporting that generates customized reports on demand.
Question: Now that I have chosen our SIS, what’s next?
Know Your School’s Limits, Yet Be Practical
The educational climate is ever-changing, so it’s necessary for schools to be able to organize, track and report on its student information. This includes meeting the state’s reporting requirements to running a school’s day-to-day operations. It’s almost impossible to run an educational establishment without the help of an efficient student information management system, and while some still try to keep track of student information manually, they are finding it is time-consuming, error-prone and a waste of vital resources.
As schools continue their journey through the 21st century, they will find the need for a management system that much more important. Also, don’t forget your new SIS will inevitably have to work with other software systems in your school, so consider how it will work with those systems.
For more information about student information systems, contact SunGard K-12 Education to learn more about eSchoolPLUS, the next generation student information system.