North Dakota schools receive free grade-tracking software

Web-based computer software that helps teachers keep closer tabs on their students’ grades, attendance, and coursework will be distributed to schools throughout North Dakota after an extensive and sometimes frustrating tryout in the Bismarck school system.

The package, Apple Computer’s PowerSchool, eventually will give parents the ability to check their children’s marks, progress reports, and even homework assignments, said Paul Johnson, superintendent of the Bismarck schools.

Teachers use the software to enter student information into an online database. School officials and other teachers then are able to use the system to prepare student profiles and monitor trends in a student’s grades.

For example, the software can be used to spot a decline in the quality of a student’s academic work quickly and plan ways to reverse the trend.

“School districts have always collected information. The challenge has always been to make use of that information,” Johnson said. “Instant access to data allows us to personalize instruction, by constantly being able to track student progress.”

The state Information Technology Department is supervising the project. It is part of a more sweeping overhaul of administrative computer software used by state government, local schools, and North Dakota’s university system.

Schools have the option of signing up for the software. Curtis Wolfe, the department’s director, said nearly 50 districts had asked for installations as of April.

The Bismarck district was picked as the North Dakota testing ground for the software. The project was launched last August and initially drew complaints from users about slow response times, which Wolfe said prompted his agency to increase the computer power devoted to the initiative.

Apple also has made several upgrades to the system to fix glitches and expand the number of tasks it was able to perform.

Johnson said he believes the system is working well now. “Any time you’re going through a revolution in any kind of a system, it requires a lot of cooperation and a lot of patience,” he said. “We really believe this is the wave of the future.”

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