Yukon schools to adopt ‘glitchy’ student tracking system

Schools in BC are starting to ditch a much-despised student-tracking system. The Yukon is spending $625,000 to adopt it.

Schools in BC are starting to ditch a much-despised student-tracking system.

The Yukon is spending $625,000 to adopt it.

British Columbia enterprise Student Information System, dubbed BCeSis, is a web-based system that tracks student performance and attendance from kindergarten to Grade 12.

The system can be configured to include a “Parent Assistant,” an online application allowing parents to keep up-to-date tabs on their child’s school performance.

After “almost a year” of research, a committee of teachers, administrators and technicians pegged BCeSis as the system that “makes the most sense” for Yukon schools, said Christie Whitley, assistant deputy minister of education.

“It feels like Windows 95; it’s prone to crash, it’s not user friendly,” said Glen Hansman, president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association.

BCeSis takes more time to use than the “antiquated” systems it was designed to replace, said Hansman.

BCeSis has been derided as “FECES” by many teachers, said a comment on the BC Teacher’s Federation website.

Last week, Vancouver elementary schools ditched BCeSis following a one-year boycott.

The Vancouver elementary schools’ decision has started a “domino effect” across BC, said Rich Overgaard, spokesperson for the BC Teachers’ Federation.

“Other districts have started to come out and say, ‘Oh, let’s take a second look at this,’” he said.

In April, BC teachers threatened a province-wide boycott of the system.

Introduced in 2004, the system was prone to overload. At times of peak demand, BCeSis could slow to a crawl.

In September 2006, as BC teachers scrambled to submit information on student registration, the system shut down completely for two days.

“The technical people do not know the practices and demands of the education system,” read a 2007 BC Teachers’ Federation newsletter.

The system did have problems, but “the beauty of it” is that BC has already ironed them out, said Whitley.

Considering the Yukon’s history of patchy internet service, BCeSis’ web-based setup probably isn’t the best idea, said Jim Tredger, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association.

In the past week, three separate fibre-optic cable cuts have choked off Yukon internet service.

Glitches aside, many BC teachers still question why schools need to track students in such detail.

“So far with BCeSis, no one has really explained what the educational rationale was,” said Hansman.

On the contrary, data from BCeSis would give unprecedented capacity to focus on school issues, said Whitley.

“Data is a good thing; data is our friend,” said Whitley.

“There’s some things that I think would be very good to track,” said Tredger.

Attendance has long been considered an issue in Yukon schools.

With BCeSis data, education officials could back up their attendance suspicions with hard data.

“When you’ve got accurate data you know exactly what you’re dealing with,” said Whitley.

Officials could also keep tabs on the learning patterns of specific groups of students.

For instance, BCeSis data could reveal that academic performance plummets after students make the transition from elementary to high school.

Administrators could then target appropriate “interventions,” said Whitley.

Behavioral data entries on BCeSis are woefully short on context, said Hansman.

“For instance, a child had a fight in Grade 2 and might have used a stick to hit a kid,” he said.

“Weapon was used,” would read the BCeSis entry.

The entry made sense when it was entered, but it could raise alarm bells when it’s read five years later by a high school teacher, said Hansman.

Keeping student records on a online database raises privacy concerns.

“Very few people” have access to hard copies of student records, said Hansman.

BCeSis data is meant to be provided on a “need-to-know” basis, but there is always the risk of “slippage,” said Hansman.

Implementation costs aside, BCeSis costs $10 per student per year in licensing fees.

With 5,000 students expected in September, BCeSis will likely cost the Yukon $50,000 per year.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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