Aspen: An answer to your questions after delay

By Finley Williams, Assistant Editor

When Olivia Urangus returned to school after spring break, she was shocked to find Aspen had replaced Impact, Lane’s former student information system; though its rollout was originally slated for December 2018, it finally debuted on April 22.

According to CPS CEO Janice Jackson, the district delayed the rollout to allow teachers and staff ample time to acclimate to the system.

“[O]ur readiness metrics tell us that our schools need more time to engage with the system before it goes live,” Jackson said in an email on Dec. 19, 2018. “[W]e are happy to provide educators additional time to learn the new system prior to a successful launch.”

Regardless, CPS has faced many questions concerning its decision to debut the program mid-year.

According to a slideshow shown at its December 2018 Board of Education meeting, the choice came after comparing other possible release dates. The first day of school was not viable because it is the “busiest day of the year,” would impede “retainment of knowledge over the summer months for staff,” and “loading all current and historical data from IMPACT takes nearly an entire week.”

Despite its late implementation, the development of Aspen is far from new. On Nov. 18, 2015, former CPS CEO Forrest Claypool signed a five year, $7.9 million agreement with Follett, the proprietor of Aspen, with the term spanning from Jan. 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2020.

In addition to specifying two options for renewal — one in 2021 and another in 2022 — the agreement also slated Aspen’s debut for April 2018, according to the Board of Education’s November 2015 meeting report. The Warrior contacted CPS for information regarding the first delay but did not hear back.

According to Follett, one of Aspen’s chief benefits is its aggregation of five separate systems, as well as the addition of information regarding school fees, graduation requirements and student transcripts. Because of this, the CPS Board of Education expects it to lessen teachers’ workloads and ultimately prove more productive than Impact, according to the email.

“The consolidated platform will greatly improve the usability of the student information system, reducing the amount of time required of teachers to navigate five systems to manage student information,” according to the slideshow.

In the Dec. 19 email, Jackson added that “Aspen will better support the exceptional work CPS educators do to provide your child with a high-quality education.”

According to Mr. Solin, a Lane computer science teacher, this aggregation, though possibly a boon, may not have been completely necessary.

“There was a time where it was harder for systems to talk to one another, so it made more sense to aggregate them into one system,” Solin said. “That time is no longer. Now we have different devices that do those individual things really well and talk to each other over a common protocol.”

Further, Aspen may not be able to completely replace Impact.

According to Solin, Aspen does not have Impact’s grade importing feature, which allowed teachers to move scores from third-party systems like Quizlet, Edmodo and Google Forms directly into Gradebook, as well as perform grade calculations in programs like Google Sheets.

“That’s been completely removed, and just losing that feature has created a massive amount of extra work for a lot of people,” Solin said. “It’s [manual data entry] created a lot of extra time for us to enter scores in.”

Entering attendance is another aspect of Aspen that causes problems for teachers. According to Solin, if a student comes into class after their teacher has already marked them absent, the teacher must first mark them present, and can only then mark them tardy, ultimately using more time and energy that would otherwise be devoted to teaching.

The issue is that many kids, especially seniors, come late to first period and the multi-step process to correct the attendance is nearly as disruptive as the tardiness,” Solin said.

Students, as well as teachers, have had problems with Aspen.

Urganus, Div. 177, said that it is altogether more complicated than Impact.

“I just don’t know how to use [Aspen]. I don’t know, it’s just not nearly as clear as Student Portal before,” Urganus said. “You could just click on a letter and see everything, and now I feel like there’s so many sections you have to go into just to find a grade, and it’s just really confusing.”

     The transition itself — as opposed to issues with the product — has also presented challenges for parents; many are still unable to access their accounts and see their children’s grades.

To address this issue, Lane has created a Google Form for troubleshooting, and CPS has posted student, parent and general information pages on their website.

According to Ms. Kerri Thompson, head of Lane’s Aspen transition chapter, initial challenges are always to be expected when implementing a new system, but both the district and the administration are mollifying the issues.

“No matter how well we prepare for something like this, there are going to be challenges and adjustments that need to be made and hopefully, over time, we’ll become as comfortable with Aspen as we were with the previous system,” Thompson said.