End of Illuminate Year One, on to Year Two!

As the school year draws to a close, I would like to take a moment to appreciate everyone who participated in the successful transition from Powerschool to the Illuminate ISI system. We have had to adapt our student / parent data management and attendance processes, learn new grade book and standards based grading practices, create all new report cards, new transcripts, and use benchmark and formative assessment data in helping our students learn. Barring any hiccups at the last minute, we can say that we made it! Again, thank you for your flexibility and can do attitudes; teamwork definitely made this dream work 🙂

I also want to thank our implementation team at Illuminate as well as the  fabulous help desk, who were always available to help us answer our questions and show us ways to improve.

Now we are ready to look ahead and see how we can more fully use the Illuminate tools to enhance how we use data to drive instruction. These are some tentative goals for next year:

  • Integrate Sped data to make profiles available to teachers via Illuminate
  • Use ISI visualizations to measure metrics and goals
  • Develop student literacy of standards and mastery
  • Develop admin use of student groups
  • Develop a common set of teacher “tiles”
  • Transition to Lightning Grader (replaces GradeCam 2.0)
  • Help teachers to more fully leverage online standards assessments
  • Develop parent engagement
  • Create standards mastery reports
  • Enhance the use of prebuilt & custom reports
  • Create and share the Accountability Dashboard
  • Leverage the Olweus Bullying Survey via summary assessments

If you have ideas on how we can meet these goals, or have ideas that you want to try, please let me or your site instructional leaders know. Thanks again for making this transition a successful one!

Ideas and Ah-Ha!s from IEUC17

On February 20th, seven YPICS team members went down to San Diego to attend the annual Illuminate Education User Conference, in order to explore how we can extend our use of the Illuminate ISI & DnA tools in our second year of implementation. The team focused on office processes such as attendance, custom reporting, transcripts and CALPADS, as well as implementing RTSS / RTI documentation.

Here are some takeaways:

  • Student Data Privacy
    • Need check our compliance with the various state and federal laws, which are numerous and overlapping
    • Instill in our culture more clearly defined privacy practices, especially when dealing with 3rd party vendors and external publishing mediums
    • We need to become ferpa sherpas!
  • System Admin Tips and Tricks
    • More custom reporting!
    • Create a report, mark it as a favorite, push out as a district favorite or as a tile
    • CMD+K shortcut in Illuminate
    • Use Bulletins/Banner Blasts to augment our communication
    • Develop backend access for additional flexibility in reporting (super duper secret stuff)
    • Need to create a recurring method of communicating tips, tricks and useful processes to staff
  • Master Scheduling
  • Custom Reporting
  • Cool Stuff
    • Activate is now Illuminate Resources, included
    • Lightning Grader now has a fill in section for scanning answer sheets, allowing for custom response to be graded online, same as quick assessments.
    • Free and Reduced Lunch forms generator to ease the burden on parents to complete the applications
    • There is now an IE Educator App which can be used to “catch a student doing something right” by taking a picture and the app will send it to the guardians automatically (iOS only, will be added to staff issued iOS devices)

There may have also been some team building activities…

If you have a question about the material listed or want to see if there was some specific material covered at the conference that you want listed here, please let me know.

T-1 till Launch…

One more day until students return, and we are nearly ready to use Illuminate full time. Here is where we stand:

BCCS: all core subject classes are properly rostered. New advisory additions and SFA classes remain to be rostered, except for those with incorrect SSID numbers. The calendar is set for normal Tuesday – Friday schedules. The Monday schedule and the 8 days of no SFA / double advisory still needs to be completed. I expect that to be done by Tuesday night. There is will a review of student enrollments tomorrow morning to try to catch any missed students. I expect all non SFA rosters to be complete by Tuesday evening.

MORCS: all core classes, electives and advisories have been rostered. There are 11 students that need to be scheduled, and SFA classes are still being determined. I hope to schedule a student enrollments review on Tuesday. The no SFA / double advisory calendar still needs to be implemented, but the standard calendar should be correct.

BCCHS: Each student was scheduled individually to each required section, so those should be good to go.

On Wednesday, there will be Illuminate staff, including our trainers, available by Google hangout to support our first day, starting at 8am until noon. I will be at MORCS on Wednesday morning to provide support to all sites.

Some operational notes:

We will be doing online attendance and manual paper attendance. Please make sure you visually verify each student in each section. I recommend having the class stand and have each student sit only once you have called their name. Any students who remain standing are either incorrectly rostered or in the wrong class. If you have students out of sort, please put in a help desk ticket and give their full names, so we can sort them out. Please do not send them to the office unless directed by intercom or call.

We will have a few rostering issues, but I am confident we will get them fixed with as little interruption as possible. Let’s make it a great first day of school!

P.S. Once we get through the first couple of days, we will work on implementing the student portal, next the report cards, and finally the parent portal.

Almost there, time to start the transition

So close! We are still cleaning up some issues with importing data, but the schedule is starting to take shape! The new visual process of managing courses, sections, rostering students and managing time blocks is very slick and, in my opinion, much easier to understand that our previous student information system.

The time has come to start weening ourselves from the old and to embrace the new. Therefore, we have removed all teacher access from Powerschool, and have restricted access to only those staff who have a current and pressing need to access student information. If you have an emergency and need your access to Powerschool restored, please put in a help desk ticket or contact a site administrator.

We hope that you have begun to use the Illuminate interface and are exploring. The formal trainings for gradebook, attendance and main office operations are coming the first week of August.

Final Countdown to going live with ISI

Count Down Clock

As of today, we have 37 days until July 15th, when we transition from using Powerschool as our gradebook and student information system to IlluminateISI. Over the last few months, we have been working on transferring our students’ demographic and historical data into the new system, and we are nearly ready to start training staff and teachers on how to use IlluminateISI.

At present, we have two ISI systems: the “live” side where we have been using IlluminateDNA as an assessment and data management system, and a “sandbox” version (https://ypics.illuminateed.com/sandbox) that gives us the functionality of the ISI without irrevocably changing student data. Now that students have gone home for the summer, I encourage you to try out the sandbox and experiment with the interface, and play with the features. If you have not yet received your username and password, please email me at charvey@ypics.org and I’ll get you set up.

Over the next few weeks, I will complete the class schedule matrix for each school, and will connect with members of the office staff and administration in July to help them get familiar with the new system, and go over common tasks. We will have teacher and office staff trainings during the August PD week conducted by our DNA trainer, so we can get ready to take attendance and set up gradebooks. The Illuminate implementation team will be working with us closely during the first two weeks of school to resolve issues as they arise. Once we are up and running with those two functions, we will work on report cards and the parent portal.

PLEASE NOTE: If you have an issue with Illuminate during the next three months, please create a help desk ticket at http://www.ypics.org/hd/ and use the “Illuminate / Powerschool” category. This way we can identify common issues, quickly publish and fixes or FAQs / tips, and document them. The help desk team can quickly address any issues with our implemenation manager and data leads. Using the help desk ticketing process also relieves the load on the Illuminate help desk folks, who will be dealing with other schools who are already established, while we will have dedicated support outside of their help desk chain.

This will be an exciting time, and there is a lot to learn, but I am certain our instruction will benefit from this transition by meeting our standards based grading needs and making our students’ data easy to access and understand.

Please feel free to comment below or email me at the address above if you have questions.

Making the jump from Powerschool to Illuminate, part 2

We have begun using Illuminate’s DnA (data and assessment) tool, and we got excited when we saw how easy it was to search for students and see their data all in one place. With Powerschool we were never really able to put test score data into the database and use it in a meaningful way, instead relying on the Excel-fu skills of our data folks to create spreadsheets and charts, all of which were built from static data snapshots.

After viewing a demonstration of the IlluminateISI, we believe the system has the following advantages:

  • Lower cost. The per student licensing cost is about 75% of Powerschool annually. The training costs are also significantly reduced by 90% for similar events, such as conferences and consultants.
  • Completely HTML5 based. The entire site, including the grade book, uses modern web technology to dynamically display data, relieving the IT staff of the burden of maintaining Java runtime compliance on the various platforms. Therefore, any device that can access the website with a modern browser can use the entire application, limited only by screen size.
  • Data visualization. In conjunction with the IlluminateDNA testing platform, we can load external test data such as our Achieve3000 and MAPS scores and create reports per student and per cohort. This will lighten the data processing burden of our data folks significantly, and allow stakeholders, such as students, teachers, parents and administrative staff access to real-time data to more easily tailor instruction and intervention.
  • Reporting. The Powerschool reporting module requires learning a separate layout and markup language, and has proven difficult to customize, especially where reports cards are concerned. IlluminateISI allows us to create PDF templates using standard applications, such as Microsoft Word, and then populate the required data more easily.
  • Spanish language localization. The student and parent portals have Spanish versions, and can be easily switched between English and Spanish in the user interface. Powerschool had to be run through a translation service such as Google Translate, and did not translate error messages, making the system difficult to access for non English speakers.
  • Easy access to support. Illuminate’s help resources are open to all at http://illuminate.screenstepslive.com/s, and does not require a designated technical contact or access credentials. Any user can also search the online and contextual help, and can email the Illuminate support staff.
  • Integration with MiSIS. Illuminate has taken steps to easily export data to the LAUSD student information system, while exporting data out of Powerschool and into MiSIS has been very problematic and time consuming. This integration will allow us to run our own student information system and exchange data with the district in accordance with the consent decree.
  • Responsive development cycle. Illuminate runs a two week software development cycle, where program improvements are tested and implemented dynamically. Powerschool’s development cycle has been increasing, but it is still a matter of months between updates.

Even so, there are several challenges ahead, for each of our stakeholders:

  1. Teachers
    1. How to use a new gradebook
    2. How to implement standards based grading
    3. How to take attendance
    4. How do subs take attendance
    5. How to track behavior and log referrals
  2. Students
    1. How to track subject and assignment grades
  3. Parents
    1. How to access student grades
    2. How to access multiple children’s grades
  4. Office Staff
    1. How to track attendance and make changes
    2. How to schedule teachers to courses and sections
    3. How to enroll students, set cohorts and roster classes
    4. How to do CALPADS and other reporting
    5. How to enter and change demographic and other parent and student data
    6. How to create student travel cards and schedules
    7. How to generate transcripts
    8. How to use the system to get data for outreach
    9. How to integrate with Alert Solutions for messaging
    10. How to track parent participation in outreach programs
  5. Instruction Administration
    1. How to enter and retrieve test scores
    2. How to review gradebook data entry
    3. How to track behavior and incident logging
    4. How to implement progress grade scales
    5. How to implement standards based grading
  6. Special Education
    1. How to use the data system to support Welligent
  7. Counseling
    1. How to use the system for high school & college counseling
    2. How to use the system to support social skills development
    3. How to use the system to support the school wide positive behavior program
  8. Afterschool
    1. How to track program participation and attendance
  9. Information Technology
    1. How to import from Powerschool accurately and completely
    2. How to back up records for disaster recovery
    3. How to integrate with the current YPICS help desk system
    4. How to complete end of year processing
    5. How to complete start of year set up

Most importantly, how do we implement these changes in such a way that we do not interrupt instruction? How can we make this transition as smoothly as possible so we realize the benefits of the new student information system without burdening our staff, students and parents?

Making the jump from Powerschool to Illuminate, part 1

After nearly 9 years as a Powerschool using district, we are planning to make the jump to the Illuminate student information system, known as ISI. With an expected implemenation date of 7/1/16, no mean feat, this.

NOTE: A point of clarification, we are referring here not to IlluminateDNA, which is for content standards testing, but IlluminateISI, which is the SIS. We will frequently use Illuminate to mean one, the other or both. 🙂

We had to weigh the pros and cons of the two systems, and look at what we would have to learn to do to maintain system usability.

Powerschool Pros:

  • Institutional knowledge. Several staff members have been trained in Powerschool, and while no one person knows the entire suite of tools, there are folks with areas of expertise.
  • Large company, large userbase. Many charter schools use Powerschool, and there is a large and active user group where we can crowdsource answers. There are also established consultants who can train.
  • It does what we need. From attendance to grade book to historical records, Powerschool did 80% of what we needed it to do, or we were able to “hack” out a solution.

Powerschool Cons:

  • Limited access to help. There are only two designated users at each site allowed to contact the Pearson help desk, so the expertise tends to be held by a specific few. The general help desk resource is password protected, but not integrated into any existing authentication system (such as the Powerschool username), so we had to maintain a separate ID and password for access to the help desk website. Very few staff members used their access. Any additional training, such as CBT or videos, came at a cost, such as a license for $1500 for specific recurring task trainings. At a charter school, such fees come at a cost of other programs.
  • Data is difficult to export and visualize. We have all become Excel kung-fu experts in moving data in and out of Powerschool, but there is no built in visualization without buying yet another product. We looked into visualization tools such as SchoolZilla and Tableau, but the licensing costs were prohibitive.
  • Gradebook uses Java. The constant and ill timed (for us) java patches and redownloads of the gradebook made getting grades in on time regularly a problem. While Powerschool is moving away from their Java gradebook, this couldn’t happen fast enough, as the limited IT resources have to handle the patches and testing.
  • DDOS. Our Powerschool instance has had significant outages due to distributed denial of service attacks. Powerschool is moving to another hosting vendor, but this has given us pause due to multiple service outages over the last two semesters.
  • Company spun off from Pearson. Powerschool is now a separate company from Pearson, and I am concerned about the continuity of support and stability. My experience with another company rolling up and going public, only to be sold off for parts a few years later gives me pause.
  • Gradebook grade scales are always punitive. Powerschool has great difficulty, in my opinion and experience, in implementing progressive grade scales. At this point, you start the semester with a score of 100% and student success is measured in how well you control the slide downwards. There are only hacks and workarounds to reward students for mastery and competence, and the sins of their journey weigh too heavily on their grade.


In my next post, I’ll discuss the perceived advantages and disadvantages of Illuminate, and touch on some of the tasks that are before us.