Getting — and using — data in real time by the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) is crucial to meeting federal regulatory requirements and boosting revenues from programs such as the free and reducedcost lunch program. “Knowing where every student is on any particular day is crucial to meeting our accountability requirements,” says Dr. Bruce Dacey, Education Associate, DDOE. “We need to know where our kids are in real time. Our former solution updated the state database on a weekly basis [and] the SunGard Pentamation and Microsoft solution updates the state database every two hours.”
In fact, all state and federal reporting on students including statistics on English proficiency, free and reduced-cost lunch eligibility, and assessments on state standards is based on getting timely data.
So the district is replacing its legacy UNIX-based student information system this year with SunGard Pentamation's .eSchoolPLUS, a .NET-connected, Web-based student administration software solution from SunGard Pentamation that provides Delaware’s 19 school districts with all of the applications they require to manage student data and meet reporting needs, including student registration, scheduling, attendance, grading, discipline, and medical records. The .NET Framework and Web services also enable the state to roll-up and update student attendance information in near real time.
Teachers get more productive
The DDOE expects to reduce annual costs by $740,000. And the flexibility of the Framework-based solution makes it easy to expand to new devices such as Pocket PCs and smartphones running Windows Mobile software so teachers and administrators can use it in new and productive ways.
Teachers and administrators access the solution via their Web browser, which connects to the eSchoolPLUS application. A Teacher Access Center allows teachers to take attendance, enter grades, and manage their gradebooks.
Parents and their children, meanwhile, can access the students’ grades, and information on their attendance, discipline, homework and classroom assignments, even bus route information all via a Home Access Center community portal. Teachers can send notes to parents through the solution.
The DDOE is phasing in this solution in three stages. An initial five-district pilot lasted 12 months. Then, the DDOE built a Web farm consisting of four Web servers running Windows Server 2003 with IIS and two database servers running SQL Server 2000. The two database servers comprise an active/passive cluster that enhances reliability.
One challenge in the installation for SunGard Pentamation was to provide a sophisticated, data-rich user interface in a thin-client environment. For example, the solution had to provide field-by-field, serverside validation on Web forms to provide the client-server-like functionality that users expected from the legacy application. To meet this need, all data calls between the client and server are passed in XML, which eliminates the need to do server-side form validation and provides users with instant feedback on their data input. As it expands the solution to cover all districts in the state, the DDOE will scale out the infrastructure to include eight Web servers and four database servers.
Meeting regulatory requirements isn’t an esoteric benefit. In addition to earning funds tied to assessments and reporting under NCLB, the solution will give the state more accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date student records that can be used to boost revenues in other ways. In fact, beyond meeting regulatory requirements, increasing revenues, and decreasing costs, the new approach will easily grow to support the DDOE and its school districts in entirely new ways, thanks to the .NET Framework.
For example, SunGard Pentamation’s Christopher Everleth, General Manager, anticipates extending the solution to include Pocket PCs and smartphones running Windows Mobile software. Thanks to the .NET Framework, the district can leverage existing code as they expand the solution, rather than having to recode to accommodate the new devices, says Everleth. Also, the DDOE expects to have a better picture of students qualified under the federal free and low-cost student lunch program and, thus, to increase the revenues it receives from that program.
“Revenues will absolutely go up as a result of this solution,” agrees Dacey.
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