In Boston, the Aspen system is replacing several databases. The School Department chose Aspen through a competitive bid. A product of Follett Software Co., Aspen is used by about 75 school districts across the state, enabling the sharing of data among those districts.
The transition has been a considerable undertaking, requiring more than a dozen new computer servers to handle the increased traffic from teachers inputting data and a disaster backup system at a separate location. The School Department gave all teachers who have been undergoing training new laptops in 2011, and is installing wireless systems in schools.
Recognizing that the new system would represent a big change in many teachers’ daily routines, the School Department has been rolling out Aspen in phases.
Daily attendance was the first to go live, starting last fall, and it has greatly reduced paper and staff involved in a morning ritual that often resembled a relay race of information. Previously, most teachers would take attendance on paper and a student would bring it to the principal’s office, where a secretary would enter the data into the computer system.
The next big change was the posting of grades online this fall, creating considerable angst. In the past, teachers often had wide discretion in the grade books they used. Many teachers kept traditional grade booklets or used software programs. Others worked at schools that used their own online systems, such as JupiterGrades or MyGradeBook, and made that data available to students and parents.
Harris, the Kennedy Academy teacher, said he likes that the new system can immediately tell teachers which students were recorded absent at the start of the day.
That was especially helpful on the afternoon he gave his math test, when only one student should have been absent but a few more seats were empty. The missing classmates, students told Harris, were lured into a long line for some kind of product giveaway at Northeastern University, where the Kennedy Academy rents space.
The students eventually showed up, but it ate away at the time for their test — a telling detail that could provide insight later into how they did.
“It’s a real plus,” Harris said. “It helps communication with parents.”