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What Questions Should You Ask Before Buying a SIS?

Industry experts and district technology officers offered a number of thoughts on what K12 school systems should know before investing in a new or upgraded student information system. The questions they suggest asking are:

  • Is the system available in software-as-a-service format? This can save a lot of money, particularly since there is no capital investment. 
  • Does the system integrate well with the applications the district already has and wants to keep, particularly those for library, transportation and special education that most likely will remain stand-alone applications? 
  • Does the vendor oversell how easily these applications will integrate? Beware—it’s never easy. 
  • Is the interface intuitive enough that people will actually use all the features, or will it require a manual to understand how it works? 
  • Does the vendor provide on-site training and/or self-paced training resources like videos? 
  • Does the system enable you to track a student’s progress toward goals longitudinally, creating a log of work that’s been done with them to identify strengths and weaknesses? 
  • Will tracking features enable you to make midcourse corrections and to meet state and federal accountability requirements, such as those embedded in Race to the Top? 
  • Does the company have a solid track record of working in the education industry? Has its system evolved over time? 
  • Does the company employ former teachers and administrators? How deeply do they understand concepts like “standards-based” and “student-centric”? How well do they understand state and federal reporting requirements? 
  • Will the company be around five years from now? Is it financially viable? 
  • How does the district plan to manage the system, given that it doesn’t fit perfectly on the technology or curriculum side? What are the plans to manage vendor relations? What about inputting the sheer amount of information involved?