A foundation created by the late grocery magnate Joe Albertson and his wife is offering Idaho schools $35 million to create a statewide student information system (SIS). Trouble is, the initiative calls for all schools to use the same software—and that frustrates some educators who’ve already made significant investments in other programs.
The network would connect all schools in the state to provide data for parents, teachers, students, administrators, lawmakers, and the public. Idaho has no such statewide SIS, but it would become one of the first states in the country to establish one.
"Schools can’t really share that information easily. It’s not their intention not to share it, but trying to get it around is a more cumbersome task than you would like," said Chris Latter, a spokeswoman for the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne complimented the foundation and its plan during his State of the State Address in January.
"Like our health districts four years ago, today our school districts cannot share basic student information among themselves, nor are they able to communicate statistical data with the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education," he said. "We need to correct this."
Idaho is increasing its assessment of students’ performance through standardized tests, and the results should be made easily available, he said.
Under the Albertson proposal, parents could log onto an internet page and view their children’s grades, homework, attendance, and more. Teachers could create lesson plans, and the public could view student achievement information. When students transfer to another school within the state, their records could be shipped electronically to the new school. And all of this would occur with no compatibility problems, because each school would be using the same software.
The foundation has proposed using SASIxp, a web-based student information system made by Pearson Education Technologies. Most of the $35 million in grant money would be used to acquire the software for the state’s schools and train teachers in its use.
"The plan is to have the system web-based so we don’t need a lot of additional hardware," said Wayne Rush, foundation senior program officer. "We really want teachers to use it for their classrooms. They can set up their day plans, and this [system] would be their grade book."
The project builds on lessons learned from a 13-district program piloted by the state in 2001 through a $3.5 million Albertson grant.
Many Idaho districts already have adopted a computerized database to manage student records. The problem: Not every district is using the same system—and although they recognize the benefits of standardizing, some superintendents worry it will cost too much.
Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said just a few years ago, the district invested a great deal of time and money in the Schoolmaster program from Olympia Computing Co. Now that his staff has been trained in Schoolmaster, Keane said he thinks it is unfair to demand even more of their time and resources.
The tiny Mullan School District considered buying a program to manage student information, but an initial estimate for SASIxp software came in at up to $50,000, Mullan officials said.
"Small schools can’t afford the cost of those good systems," Superintendent Robin Stanley said. "You have a hard time justifying $35,000 to $50,000 when you only have 200 students." As the Albertson Foundation introduced its initiative to implement SASIxp statewide, Stanley said the price suddenly dropped to $2,000.
"We smiled and bought it as quickly as we could," Stanley said, adding he still is concerned about the ongoing costs once the foundation system is launched. He estimates that could run up to $6,000 a year.
"It’s terribly significant," Stanley said. "That’s a big amount of money for me."
J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation
Idaho Department of Education