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Improving on ARIS

Teacher-designed data systems more useful

Math teacher Jesse Olsen explains how his data system, Impact, works. Miller Photography

Math teacher Jesse Olsen (center) explains to Chapter Leader Nancy Martinez (left) and colleague Daniel Cyns how his data system, Impact — a more precise tool for high school teachers than the city’s ARIS system — works.

Teachers, it turns out, really do know how to build a better mousetrap.

Frustrated and disappointed with ARIS, the Department of Education’s $80 million data system, teachers have taken matters into their own hands.

Jesse Olsen, a math teacher at Validus Preparatory Academy in the Bronx, was disappointed with the way ARIS tracks student attendance. When ARIS marks a student present, it indicates present for the entire day. But high school teachers know better. Students can be in class for attendance and then cut a class or two or three and the ARIS attendance record is none the wiser.

So he set out to do it better. His program, Impact, is now used in 21 schools.

Olsen, an Oregonian who describes himself as a “techie guy,” put his computer engineering skills to work and came up with an online attendance system that updates instantly. And, while he was at it, he added an online grade book to track individual assignments — ARIS only includes final grades — and to show how well students have learned certain skills and the work they must still complete. Impact also allows teachers to note students’ behavior.

ARIS, Olsen points out, is not what teachers hoped for because it is designed for too large and varied an audience and it doesn’t fulfill the individual needs of schools and teachers.

“Teachers,” he said, “are the ones best equipped to meet those needs. Schools need more choice.”

There has been no shortage of complaints about ARIS from teachers since it was first introduced in 2008 by Chancellor Joel Klein as a costly tool that he insisted teachers use to track student data so they could then adjust their lessons to individual student needs.

But ARIS seems to work better for the needs of the DOE than teachers. At every school meeting and Meet the President meeting, UFT President Michael Mulgrew has been besieged by teacher complaints.

“When you integrate technology,” he said, “it should make your job easier. ARIS doesn’t.” He noted that new data systems developed by teachers take ARIS and make it “user-friendly and useful.”

Such user-friendly, teacher-designed systems are now in use in schools across the city. DataCation was designed by teachers from Brooklyn’s HS of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, and was purchased by 30 city schools last year.

Staff from Leon Goldstein HS, also in Brooklyn, formed the LMG Data Group to sell their software, which is customizable depending on what each school chooses to analyze.

These are just a few of the new and innovative data programs making their way through the school system.

Marisol Peña, an early childhood teacher at PS 150, Brooklyn, complained that the ARIS literary assessments are not useful because of the huge delays. “The DOE system doesn’t provide the kind of information I need, so I only use it for attendance data at marking period time,” she said.

Perhaps some techie teacher will step up and build a better mousetrap for early childhood teachers, too.

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