A Tremendous Undertaking

Under the hood of report cards at Hillsborough County Public Schools.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Asbury

CREDIT EdsbyAs school districts have modernized and digitized their instruction, so too have they updated their processes for managing and distributing student performance data. It’s a tremendous undertaking.

Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla., which is the eighth-largest school district in the U.S., relies on Edsby to capture and report on student grades. Purpose-built for K-12, this modern LMS makes individual assessment scores and overall academic progress available to parents and students during the academic quarter if individual teachers choose to do so.

Teachers in Hillsborough County submitted more than 5 million grades to the platform’s grade book, with some 830,000 on the busiest day.

At the same time, Hillsborough County uses the system to generate report cards at the end of each academic quarter. Keeping track of and reporting on academic progress in this district is a huge task. There are upwards of 200,000 students, 18,000 teachers and tens of thousands of parents reporting, monitoring and receiving grades in Hillsborough County alone.

Let’s take a look at how report cards work at Hillsborough County.

Electronic workflow for teachers 

The concept behind report cards in this platform is simple: the system issues teachers a set of electronic report card “sheets” for each class, with areas for entering the required information pertaining to each of their students. If teachers enter student grades throughout the quarter, generating report cards can be easy. Averages are automatically calculated, although the teacher can use professional judgment to override the calculated average.

For most schools and districts, after teachers enter and submit their report card comments and sheets electronically through the platform, the school office can print report cards directly from the LMS on special templates that match the district’s reporting standards. In Hillsborough, elementary schools do exactly this, saving vast amounts of time, effort and expense.

In other schools and districts, the raw report card data are exported to another district application for collation and printing. This is the method Hillsborough uses for middle and high schools. After teachers use the platform to submit report card comments and final grades, the data are sent to the district’s existing report card printing system, which physically prints report cards for middle and high school students in the county.

At each stage of the process, administrators can monitor report card progress and see where their thousands of teachers are in the workflow.

Hillsborough County by the numbers

During the first quarter of the 2014-15 school year, teachers in Hillsborough County submitted more than 5 million grades to the platform’s grade book, with some 830,000 grades submitted on the busiest day. About 250,000 of those grades were submitted on the last day teachers could enter grades, illustrating a popular lament of Hillsborough students –that some teachers only use the LMS as a simple report card system and only enter grades at the end of the quarter instead of throughout the quarter.

After all grade book data were entered, administrators generated 91,209 electronic report card sheets for teachers to fill out. Each sheet sought comments on individual students’ performance and a final first-quarter grade in each class for each student.

In the case of middle and high schools, Edsby then sent 732,104 final grades and comments to the district’s report card printing system, which ultimately printed 102,483 student report cards.

Assistant principals in Hillsborough elementary schools used the system to directly print 95,179 report cards in English and Spanish in their offices, bypassing the export to the legacy report card printing system.

High performance

Some electronic report card systems get burdened down during report card season. Some teachers in some school districts even have to get up in the middle of the night to enter report card data because of historical system constrains. Hillsborough County’s system sees relatively little performance impact during heavy report card data periods. The system averages about one-tenth of a second response times across all requests, and below two-tenths of a second even at peak loads of well over 500 requests per second from Hillsborough County users. So teachers can submit grades when they like.

Hillsborough County can also easily access and report grades from students that transfer schools within the district. It was unable to do so with its previous electronic grade book system. For more information on how Hillsborough County manages report card data for its approximately 200,000 students, read this profile.

Jon Asbury is vice president of design at Edsby. He attended the University of Toronto, graduating in 1986 with a B.A.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering. Asbury joined Nortel Networks upon graduation, becoming part of the Meridian Mail team. He left Nortel in 1989, co-founding SoftArc Inc. At SoftArc Asbury oversaw development of the FirstClass client, which to this day remains one of the most popular email and collaboration products in education.

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