Choosing A Student Information System (SIS)

For most of our schools, the beginning of the school year is just around the corner.  Now is a good opportunity to map out your Student Information System (SIS) strategy to avoid any surprises during the school year.  For new and existing schools alike, we’ve compiled some key tips to consider before choosing a new SIS to start with, or migrate to, as your school needs or requirements change.  Although we recommend Pearson’s PowerSchool SIS to our clients, these tips can often be applied to any SIS.

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Let us introduce the elephant in the room, COSTS.  Given the current economic conditions we are in, it is natural to have your costs drive your decision for a SIS.  Our view is that cost need not limit your options of finding a system that can work well for your school needs.  Below are some considerations that can impact cost both now and in the future.

Hosted(Web-based) vs. On-site Server
Web-based computing has brought SIS scalability to schools large and small.  Most vendors offer web-based SIS options, providing 24-7 access to student information to administrators, teachers, students and even parents.  Cost affects on utilizing such systems are most dependent on School Size and available Technical Expertise.

Making the choice for hosted or an on-site server is about finding a balance between School Size and available Technical Expertise.

With a web-based SIS, all technical maintenance is offloaded to the vendor, reducing the amount of time and effort you’d otherwise spend maintaining the system. However, a web-based SIS often has a yearly maintenance cost associated with it that can add up depending on the size of the school as this is normally a student/per year charge.  If your school is small enough, it could mean big cost savings and reduced management when compared to keeping a technical resource on staff!

Support & Training
Be cautious of SIS vendors who tell you about how “easy” and “user friendly” their system is.  While there are certainly systems that are better than others, a SIS is still a complex database that, when not understood properly, can create major headaches for you and your school.  This problem is compounded when it impacts your ability to comply with different school demands, or when you require continuous training that you did not budget for.

Be sure to ask your vendor about ONGOING training options.  These could become large “hidden costs” since it is hard to gauge how much future training will be needed when you sign your contract.  Lastly, conduct due diligence concerning your vendor’s support costs and operating hours.

State Reports – Can it do it, and will I have to pay if requirements change?
Another important topic is whether the SIS you are looking at can meet any and all of your student-oriented State reports.  Depending on the State you live in, you should have a clear idea of what is needed from your school to comply with your District, County and State.  As is the case with just about anything relating to compliance, requirements constantly change and having an SIS with built in support AND UPDATES for your state should be the norm.  Some SIS vendors may only provide these reports as options that you have to pay for so it is important that you get a clear sense of the costs associated with State reports.

Personalization (aka Customization)
Many schools who purchase a new SIS quickly find out they are not capable of “fitting” into their system, and worse, they can’t modify it to their needs. While most schools can easily fit into the “traditional school” SIS setup, make sure to ask about those peculiarities that make your school different and how or if it can be implemented via customization.

This is also true for non-State reports. Every school wants to report some things and not others, so many times new reports must be created (think of report cards, transcripts or parent letters, for example). Some questions to consider include:

  • Can you add custom fields of student or staff information?
  • Can you create or consolidate screens in your SIS?
  • How easy is it to create a custom report?

As when the purchasing anything worthwhile, the best tip is always to research what you need and ask, ask and continue asking your vendor to make sure their product meets your need!

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