Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Education

Some complaints over Hillsborough schools' new online grading system

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District's move to the second semester this week presented teachers with another adjustment to the district's new online grading system, and another chance to grouse that it's too complicated.

The transition from Edline, a system that had been in place for four years, to the new Edsby has posed challenges for teachers, parents and students.

A recent message to teachers detailing steps to navigate the Edsby home screen and set up class information for the second semester illustrated that Edsby remains a work in progress.

If you teach semester-long classes, you will now see your second semester classes on your Edsby Home Screen. For some users, this may appear to look like there are duplications in your class lists. Edsby developers are currently working on a way to make it easier for you to tell the difference between current classes and classes for the next term.

The instructions left some teachers complaining the directions are difficult to understand, and they don't receive formal training to keep up with the changes.

School district officials insist it's the growing pains of converting to a new system.

But some teachers and parents argue the introduction of Edsby came too soon and too fast, and they are longing for Edline.

Behind the Edline to Edsby switch

The idea behind products such as Edline and Edsby is that parents need a way to keep track of what their children are doing, especially in the middle and high school years, when students don't always keep them in the loop.

Increasingly, students also use online systems to keep track of assignments and class averages, along with general announcements from their teachers.

The district's more than 14,000 teachers are required to post grades using Edsby, which students can access. Since September, more than 50,000 parents in Hillsborough County have registered for an Edsby account to keep up on their kids' grades.

The project was put up for bid in early 2013. Out of 14 proposals, the district chose Edsby.

Edsby will cost $180,000 per year for five years, with free daily technical support as part of the contract, said Web services manager Greg Hart. To keep Edline would have cost $367,000.

Some teachers privately frustrated

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia sent an email to teachers last February to seek feedback on the district's top two choices to replace Edline, communications manager Jason Pepe said. She sent teachers another email in April to inform them the district had chosen Edsby.

Teachers contacted by the Tampa Bay Times were reluctant to publicly criticize Edsby.

Privately, they expressed frustration over frequent crashes and missing features, such as the inability to easily drop text into the system.

Each school has a teacher champion and superuser to provide teachers with on-site tech support. The district began training teacher champions and superusers in June.

Online training was made available to teachers two weeks before the start of the school year.

Some teachers have embraced the new system. Sonja Lutz, AVID coordinator and elective teacher at Leto High School in Tampa, said Edsby allows her to communicate more effectively with students. She can see when they last checked an assignment and is able to provide immediate access to missed assignments.

Uploading assignments for four classes takes about 10 minutes at the end of the day, she said.

"It's easy to provide feedback all in one place about the actual work they are doing, not just a grade," she said.

Parents concerned for teachers, apps

Parents received access Sept. 23 in what Pepe called a "layered approach" to give teachers four weeks to get used to the new system.

"Parents feel like it should have been rolled out in an organized manner ahead of time," said Betsy Textor, who has two children at Newsome High School in Lithia.

"Some teachers have learned to use it pretty effectively. Some are still frustrated," Textor said.

Lissette Godwin has a daughter at Sickles High School and a son at Hill Middle School. She said Edsby is less user-friendly and that its phone app has been an annoyance, too.

"I've never had to update an app so many times in my life," she said.

Textor said her kids' teachers update grades at different rates. She doesn't have access to as much feedback on grades and assignments as her kids do, she said.

Most of her kids' teachers are trying their best to learn the new system, she said, but many parents still aren't sold.

"Parents say, 'Don't use it, just use regular email,' " Textor said. "Did they sell us a bunch of features that nobody's going to use?"

But Edsby is not meant to replace email, phone calls or face-to-face meetings, Pepe said. It's another tool meant to enhance communication among teachers, parents and students.

Transition leads to bumpy glitches

Jeff Pelzer, technology specialist at Rodgers Middle School, said the transition to Edsby has been bumpy, but that Edline wasn't initially embraced either.

"Edsby has the potential to be a fantastic product," Pelzer said. "The difficulty comes into play when you don't have a complete product when the school year starts."

Never was that difficulty more evident than the transition from the first nine-week grading period to the second.

When the first quarter ended and the second began, Edsby calculated all the grades together, rather than showing new averages for the second quarter.

The Edsby team is based in Toronto and works with schools worldwide, many of which factor grades cumulatively, Pepe said. Edsby was responsive to the problem, he said. It took about two weeks for Edsby's tech team to write the code to fix it.

District calls Edsby a work in progress

Rolling out a new program to so many people comes with a learning curve, said deputy superintendent Jeff Eakins.

Officials said the district will continue to work with Edsby on system improvements and updates to the app. Some recent enhancements make it easier for teachers to print multiclass progress reports, immediately view the most recent assessments and weight grades. Parents and students can now access dropped classes.

It's a work in progress, officials said, adding that a key component to that progress is users exploring the system and becoming more comfortable with it.

"We have to be patient. Everyone's at a different place with technology and with teaching," Eakins said. "We don't ever want them to take away the option of a phone call. But with 24/7 access, as teachers start to learn what they can do, they can build on it."

Comments
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18