MPS gets new software to track student progress [Montgomery Advertiser, Ala. :: ]
(Montgomery Advertiser (AL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 16--The question from Montgomery County school board member Robert Porterfield came dripping with skepticism.
"So you're telling me that our teachers can pull this up at any time and see all this information?" Porterfield asked Montgomery Public Schools' director of assessment services Vickie Holloway. "That's just unbelievable."
He meant that in a good way.
Porterfield's disbelief came about as he viewed a slideshow presented by Holloway on Montgomery Public Schools' new "True North" software, which tracks student progress and performance in a number of areas and over several years.
The software's capabilities were demonstrated last Tuesday to give board members a glimpse at new assessment programs and professional development tools designed to accompany the state's new College and Career Ready Standards.
Those standards, which have been criticized for their alignment with the federal Common Core standards, were developed to help alleviate an issue with Alabama schoolchildren graduating from high school but being unprepared to take college-level courses. The new standards put more emphasis on the procedure from which an answer is derived to ensure students are truly learning the coursework.
The College and Career Ready Standards, when combined with some software programs and regular testing, also offer teachers and school system officials a variety of new ways to track student successes and failures. And they offer parents a unique, new view into the education process.
"It's something that's very comprehensive," Holloway said. "It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process for everyone involved."
MPS board members praised the new True North software, which also has been incorporated into the Atlanta school system.
"It's just remarkable that all that information will be right there for teachers and everyone," Porterfield said. "No one will ever have to guess. We can actually see when a child starts to struggle and provide him extra help."
The way the software provides that detail is primarily through a grid-type display that lists information ranging from a broad overview of an entire school or class of students to the specifics on a single student's progress through a single course over several years.
Park Crossing Principal Robert Smith, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said his teachers have found that the software programs, when combined with Global Scholar's Performance Series standardized tests, allow them to spend more time on problem areas for students and less time on skills they've already mastered.
Students are tested at the beginning of the year, and those tests include questions on standards the students haven't yet been taught. That sets a baseline for each student so his or her progress can be tracked. As the year progresses and the students take in more lessons, they should begin to raise their scores in areas of focus or in areas in which they hadn't been taught previously.
"(The continued tracking) allows teachers, as you go along, to focus in on the problem areas and not spend so much time in the areas the students have already mastered," Smith said.
Students who satisfactorily progress are shaded in green on the chart. At-risk students are in yellow. And students who are failing to progress or are regressing are in red. Classes, schools and districts also are subject to the color coding so administrators are provided an overview.
But all of the information is continuously available to teachers, principals and school system officials, and most of the student-specific information is available to parents.
"It's a check and balance for everybody," board member Mary Briers said. "It takes out the guesswork. You can see everything."
MPS and the Alabama State Department of Education also are providing teachers with a mountain of new professional development programs and teacher aides to help them work through all of the changes and most any other problem. One slide in the presentation listed 15 different development programs, not to mention a number of online tools, such as sample lesson plans for the new standards.
"One thing we're realizing is that we have so many resources the teachers don't know which way to turn," Superintendent Margaret Allen said.
Allen said it was the central office staff's job to make teachers as comfortable as possible with the new tools and technology and to get everyone on board.
"It's our job to give them a clear road map that they can follow," she said. "That's what we'll do. All of these (programs) are only good if they're being used and if (teachers) are putting in the effort. I have a feeling, though, that once they see what's available and what it can do, we won't have to convince them to use it."
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