What is an SIS?
Student Information Systems, known as SIS to many in the educational technology circles, have been around for a long time.
As a function of that longevity your local SIS:
- Is a Huge investment.
- Probably predates interoperability.
That huge investment is more than just money, it is training time too. You don’t change SIS like you do paper suppliers. The cost to morale and in training is often the most daunting aspect of changing the current student information system. You are more likely to startle your data technician to death than actually get anywhere asking about changing your SIS.
Many state Departments of Education make selecting one SIS over another tempting. Either through offering training, offering easier/better supported integrations, or by modeling data usage in one SIS (over another).
Since the SIS is chosen by data experts in the district/schools (and not classroom personnel) the data isn’t so easy to use for classroom purposes. The experts in this system are just experts in a system, not teachers.
Many student information systems are not as interoperable as instructional technologist would like. That is partly by design and partly by mindset. The data collected by schools needs to be protected (FERPA). While all in education agree on that, the mindset of the extent of protection is an interpretive state.
Classroom educators and technologists want easy access to updated class rosters. While every vendor of educational technology might have different integration points, data which identifies the students current course(s), teacher(s), and school(s) are non-negotiables. Some vendors request access to write to the SIS; grades generated by automated assessments/assignments can send score if allowed. Some SIS do not allow this, either on principle or for lack of functionality. You might safely only expect demographic, academic, and personal data of students/households to be altered by the most restrictive group of users, specified each academic year.
What can teachers do?
Continue to ask for a SIS that is interoperable. This is request will not happen over night or likely by the end of this school year, but you are building that case of what you want when the contract comes up again.
Use a system like Clever on top of your SIS and/or Active Directory to work with the data which is allowed to be shared to a middleman like Clever. Clever essentially offers your students single sign on in many cases. Meaning you are not hand-creating accounts for kiddos.
If the vendor only accepts .csv files, push back! Ask for more price discounts since they are requiring more work to get students into their system. Ask them to use Clever. Clever charges vendors, not schools, for their services. So while the vendor might not want to engage with Clever, it should not cost you monetarily and should save you work.
Eventually you will become familiar with what you can request from your SIS too, but for the most part – – – good luck working around your student information system!