While school administrators have access to more data than ever before to analyze and monitor the status and progress of their districts, they need sophisticated tools to organize and make sense of it to make the most informed, data-driven decisions. A wealth of information is available, from student test scores to demographic, discipline and immunization reports and a variety of other data. Making this information as useful as possible are student information systems (SIS), large-scale software programs designed specifically to collect, maintain and manage the thousands of pieces of data essential for effectively administering a school system.
The earliest versions of such systems were unwieldy, custom built, expensive, and mainly used by the largest school systems, which had both the biggest budgets and the biggest need for such software. As with other technology, the price point has plummeted since then, while the capabilities and features have considerably increased, putting the power of these programs in the hands of even small districts. Student information systems have also continued to move online and become fully hosted, further decreasing the price and reducing or eliminating maintenance and installation costs. Several open source SIS programs —available for free—are on the market, although as with other open source software, they provide for basic needs but lack some of the more sophisticated capabilities and technical support of the market leaders. Here are a few of the many options to consider using in your district.
Star-Base School Suite, Pricing varies
The Star-Base School Suite contains some 22 modules, including a teacher grade book, attendance tracker, master and student schedulers, customizable transcripts, food service resources and more. A Portal feature enables parents or students to access real-time information such as grades or attendance records online from any Web browser. While the program is Web based, districts must have a server on-site to store data for the standard version. But the company has recently unveiled an ASP software-as-a-service version that utilizes secure outside servers, providing a much more affordable and lowermaintenance option for districts with fewer than 5,000 students.
PowerSchool 6.1, Pricing varies
Pearson bought two of its main competitors in the past several years, making it the largest SIS company by market share today. The latest version of PowerSchool is Web based and includes a variety of management tools, such as the data reporting tool ReportWorks, classroom data manager PowerTeacher, and automated master scheduling program PowerScheduler. Pearson emphasizes ease of use and interactivity in the design of the program, which includes animated charts and graphs to make data more engaging. This new version has also added integration with Google Maps for student address accuracy and district border validation.
OnCourse SIS, Pricing based on number of students
OnCourse Systems’ SIS complements the company’s Lesson Planner, Grade Book and Student Stats hosted, Web-based school management solutions. The program’s key components include tools for maintaining information on student enrollment, parents and guardians, grade tracking, attendance and scheduling, as well as an online Grade Book application with a parent/student access portal. The newest component is a Discipline Tracker application, which enables administrators to document, track and report disciplinary and behavioral incidents and immediately contact stakeholders with the click of a mouse.
Open Solutions for Education
openSIS Base Application, Free
The openSIS base application is a free, open source SIS, though the organization also offers upgrade editions for purchase—either a hosted online version or a local server version. The free download version includes basic tools to track student demographics, schedules, transcripts, health records and attendance. Additional modules available for purchase and/or a subscription fee include a discipline tracker, e-mail and text messaging notification tools, a food service management program, and a state reporting application that collects data and generates reports that can be easily submitted to meet state requirements.
Student information systems are also available from: Edupoint, X2, Illuminate, Infinite Campus, SunGard Public Sector, Rediker Software, Skyward, Computer Resources, SchoolTool and SchoolNet.