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Keys to a Successful Gradebook Rollout

Many districts have had wonderful success with rolling out gradebooks.  Others wonder where they went wrong, or why their teachers are not on board.  Here are the keys to ensuring a successful gradebook rollout for your district, and to keeping your teachers informed and happy.
#1.  Get Teachers Involved Early!
What to do:
The most important key to success is getting teachers involved early.  Several months before rollout, communicate to teachers that you are considering rolling out a new gradebook.  Clearly articulate the reasons and the benefits for moving to a new gradebook.  Hold sessions where they can see the new gradebook, learn about the new features, and offer feedback.  If your teachers have enhancement suggestions, let them know that you will communicate those back to Pearson.  Almost 100 features have been added to PowerTeacher since it's launch in 1997, and these are all from direct teacher feedback. 
What NOT to do:
Because of time pressure, some districts skip the communication, and simply spring the decision on teachers and force them to make the switch.  This is a clear recipe for disaster.  In general, teachers are more comfortable with what they already know, and can be very apprehensive about having to learn a new system.  Suddenly forcing a big change on them is a definite way to start a teacher rebellion, with demands for keeping the old system.  Make sure to communicate early and often and the switch to a new gradebook. 
#2.  Explain the origin, vision, and direction of PowerTeacher
What to do:
Some gradebooks like PowerGrade and Integrade Pro were developed over a period of 10 or more years.  As a new product, PowerTeacher is not going to have every single feature yet from PowerGrade.  Nor is it going to do things in exactly the same manner as PowerGrade, especially when there is a better or more usable way. 
PowerTeacher was built from the ground up as a brand new product, with feedback from thousands of teachers.  The goals was to design a grabebook from scratch that provides the ultimate user experience.  18+ months of usability testing were done with teachers across the country.  It's true that PowerTeacher does not have every feature of PowerGrade.  But in the past year, it has added almost 100 new features since it's initial launch less than a year and a half ago.
PowerTeacher is constantly being enhanced.  Because of the research and positive teacher feedback, Pearson has chosen PowerTeacher as the gradebook solution for all of its student information products.   Now when a feature is added to PowerTeacher, over 30% of all teachers in the country can potentially take advantage of it, across PowerSchool, SMS and SASI SIS users.
PowerTeacher will not be the same as PowerGrade or Integrade Pro.  As mentioned above, teachers in general do not like change.  It's important for them to realize all of the research and teacher feedback that went into PowerTeacher.  It is not designed as the next version of PowerGrade, and features will work in new and innovative ways.  PowerTeacher being built as the next generation of teacher tools.  No other gradebook on the market can match PowerTeacher's usability and the rich experience that it provides in a 100% web-based gradebook.
What NOT to do:
Districts that simply say "here's a new gradebook" without providing the context above will leave teachers confused. Teachers will wonder why they left PowerGrade, and why PowerTeacher doesn't have a feature or two from the previous gradebook.  Once teachers realize that PowerTeacher is the foundation, has been constantly enhanced from 1.0 to 1.1 to 1.5, and will continue to grow in the future, they will understand the benefits of this next generation teacher tool. 
#3.  Explain the benefits  to the district, to parents, and to the teachers of having a centralized gradebook built as part of the SIS
What to do:
Explain the benefits to teachers of having a centralized web-based gradebook that is developed as part of the SIS.   This greatly reduces administrative headaches, worries about getting data back to the SIS or the parent access.  With PowerTeacher, the parent portal and the SIS get updated automatically, with no additional steps from the teacher.  Teachers may be used to the headache of importing and exporting files, or of having to print their own report cards.  In some cases, the homeroom teachers used to have to track down all of the specialist teachers (Spanish, Art, P.E., etc) and input grades for them.  All of that goes away by using PowerTeacher.  Teachers also have access to children's grades across classes.  When a student has an issue, teachers can determine if the child is having a problem in all classes (which would indicate an intervention and coordination among teachers), or only in that teacher's class.  Having this information at their fingertips helps teachers make the right decisions about how to best help their students.
What NOT to do:
Do not assume that critical district benefits are automatically apparent to teachers.  For example, the benefit of standardizing on a district report card and being able to run it from the school or district office is a huge benefit.  Parent access integrated with the SIS is another enormous benefit for the school and for the teachers, with parents seeing all of the information about their student in one application.   
#4.  Training, Training, Training
What to do:
Provide teachers with plenty of opportunities to learn the application, and provide supporting materials.  Make sure they understand the key features, and have access to key resources:  on-line help, district materials, and access to other power users at their school.  Offer multiple sessions and multiple ways to learn the application.  Explore Pearson's self-paced on-line training as an option, especially for new teachers who come in mid-year and miss the general training.   
Creation of a quick reference card (or use Pearson's) will help teachers remember the key data, and have a resource to go to for the core functions. 
What NOT to do:
Although the application is extremely easy-to-use, do not assume that teachers will figure out everything by themselves or without documentation.  If teachers don't figure out how to do a function, they will assume that it's not in the product.  In many cases, they just need to be pointed in the right direction to realize all of the advanced features in PowerTeacher.  See "Teacher Tips" for examples of features that teachers often miss, but which are easy-to-use and provide a lot of rich functionality.
#5.  Train the trainer, and build a team of super users.  Ensure that every school has some expert teachers who become advocates and who other teachers can turn to for help.
What to do:
Offer specialized in-depth training to specific teachers who are interested.  You might even run a pilot for a reporting period, to help this group get up to speed.  Ensure that you have volunteers from EVERY school.  When a new teacher is trying to figure out how to do something, it can be frustrating if they have to wait for answers.  With several other teachers at their school who can help and answer questions, you'll build a base of happy users who get questions answered quickly
What NOT to do:
Do not designate just one person in the district to become the expert in the application, and expect that he or she will be able to help everyone.  It's critical to ensure that every school in the district has teachers who are at that school every day to offer support and encouragement to the other teachers.  Some districts will designate just a single expert, or pick someone who is at different schools on different days.  This practice can lead to teacher frustration when their peer resource is not on site that day.   Building up a team of advocates prior to general roll-out will help things go much more smoothly, and provide a support network for teachers. 
 #6.  When in doubt, pilot the application for a reporting period to build your team of power users
What to do:
With a disparate teaching staff, one of the best options may be to line up your super users at each school, and let them go live for a reporting term before rolling out the application and the training to the other teachers.  The word of mouth from the advocates will generate excitement at the schools, and teachers will be much more excited when the time comes for the general roll out.
What NOT to do:
Randomly pick teachers to participate, or force a teacher to be part of the pilot.  Pick teachers who you know will appreciate the benefits of the new application, and who will be good mentors to the other teachers once they go live. The pilot period is a time to groom your super users and advocates, and get them ready to help with the general roll-out.  



Last Modified on January 5, 2012