School board to examine software issues

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By Tris DeRoma

At a recent Los Alamos Board of Education meeting, a presentation about “PowerSchool” prompted a larger debate about the software’s user-friendliness as well as its readiness for school wide use. The board also had questions about the software’s compatibility with other programs. 

PowerSchool is a web-based software program teachers use mostly to write, upload lesson plans and share student progress with parents who also have access to their student’s progress through the site. The software measures progress through metrics showing how well as student is grasping “Common Core” concepts.

 Common Core is a set of national standards students are expected to master in English and Mathematics. 

Full implementation of Common Core is expected in 2014-15, but Common Core standards are already being introduced this year in a lead up to full implementation. 

This year, the Los Alamos School District is training elementary school teachers in Common Core, next year will be the high school. 

Most everyone at the meeting seemed to agree that the rush to implementation seemed to be a big part of the problem.

 In order for PowerSchool to work, Common Core standards have to be built into it, and teachers have to identify within the software what standard to align their lesson plans with.

Presenting the program at the meeting were District Curriculum Coordinator Pamela Miller, as well as teacher/instructors Ivanna Austell and Lorraine Whalen made the presentation.

According to the instructors, they’ve made huge efforts and inroads to help the teachers, editing down the vast set of standards to only what they need for their grade level. 

“We’ve made it simple as possible to help them find what we feel are the essential standards,” said Austell to the board. “You don’t have to report on every single standard that’s in there. There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding about that.”

The instructors then went on to say that teachers are struggling with the software because they aren’t yet familiar with the Common Core standards enough to know how to effectively teach Common Core Standards.

“Common Core was pushed through really quickly and I think some people aren’t familiar enough with it to use it properly,” said one of the instructors, adding that if they just stick with PowerSchool they will eventually get it.

“I think we have to just keep plugging through it. PowerSchool is going to work… 

“We just have to keep them calm and get them through the training,” Austell said.

But board Secretary Matt Williams also pointed out other problems as well, mainly the software’s incompatibility with another piece of software teachers use for evaluation. 

“...It seems to me that we should be able to have some software that says we’re doing common core with this software, this curriculum and this book and connects all these things together,” he said.