getting data right

New student data system for parents aims for simpler, less costly approach

PHOTO: New York City Department of Education
Screenshots of the city's new mobile web site where parents can see basic school data for their children.

Parents will soon have a new, mobile-friendly way to check up on their children’s progress in school.

The Department of Education has developed a website for parents that will replace parts of the defunct Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, a costly and unpopular data warehouse that had been in use since 2008. The new offering, called NYC Schools, is emblematic of the de Blasio administration’s approach to school and student data, which is focused on making the systems understandable to families, not evaluation.

Officials unveiled the system to reporters on Tuesday, which features a simple interface that officials touted as an improvement over ARIS’s more complicated set-up. Parents who log into their account this summer will be able to view their student’s report card grades and daily attendance for this school year. By August it will include class schedules and state test scores, and eventually will include historical data so that parents can track a child’s progress.

“We really started building a tool that was based on what parents asked for, which is simplified navigation, basic information that can be accessed quickly,” said Hal Friedlander, the department’s chief information officer who oversaw the project. Parents have to sign up at their child’s school, which will start registering parents on June 8.

Until December, all parents and teachers had access to basic information about their children through the ARIS system, which launched in 2008 under former Chancellor Joel Klein. Though glitches delayed its rollout, the system included big improvements to data storage for the nation’s largest school district, consolidating information that had been hosted in separate databases for decades. Previously, teachers had to use a variety of data systems to figure out which school their students used to attend, what their test scores were, or how often they missed class.

But the city’s more ambitious goal for ARIS — for its data to be used to improve teaching and learning — never quite materialized. Teachers complained that the data was too limited to guide their instruction, while parents complained that it was difficult to access and did not provide anything more valuable than what they got at parent-teacher conferences or on quarterly report cards. All told, the price tag reached $95 million for the project. In 2012-13, just 3 percent of parents and 16 percent of teachers had logged into ARIS, according to the city.

With participation rates low and maintenance contracts expiring, Fariña announced in November that the city would develop a replacement system internally.

Friedlander said the project is expected to cost no more than $6 million to develop and update over the next four years. The work was completed by developers on staff, who unlike outside contractors weren’t being paid by the hour.

“We’re not trying to make revenue on top of what our costs are,” Friedlander said.

The NYC Schools accounts will be competing with a host of online products that have cropped up in recent years — many in response to frustrations with ARIS — and which provide schools with extra features the city’s tool won’t include. PupilPath, for instance, keeps track of attendance and scores on class tests, and provides students with an instant messaging system to communicate with teachers. Engrade, other product now owned by McGraw-Hill, provides much of the same features.

“Delivery of information online to parents is becoming more commonplace in districts all across the country,” said Peter Bencivenga, president of CaseNEX and DataCation, the companies that developed PupilPath. That product has been used by more than 500 city schools, Bencivenga said.

As the de Blasio administration scraps systems developed by the Bloomberg administration, which used student data to build new accountability systems, officials have emphasized their focus on making that information more family-friendly. Last year, Fariña replaced school progress reports, which included A-F letter grades used to rank and evaluate schools, with “School Quality Snapshots” intended for parents and more detailed “School Quality Guides.”

The department is still working out the precise balance useful and overwhelming. Proposed overhauls of both the guides and the snapshots include more detail than last year’s versions. And some elements of the city’s Where Are They Now reports, which disappeared last year, have reemerged in new data tools developed for principals.

Officials said those tools will also allow teachers to view their students’ data soon, which is something that they haven’t been able to do as easily in the months since ARIS folded.

Some teachers say they have missed having that access since ARIS folded in December. Mark Anderson, a special education teacher in the Bronx, said he now has to retrieve data reports from his school’s secretary, who must print out raw data from another city system he cannot access on his own.

“Before, it took me one minute to pull it up on my laptop,” Anderson said.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede