Student information system
A student information system (SIS) is a software application for education establishments to manage student data. Student Information Systems (often abbreviated as SIS systems) provide capabilities for entering student test and other assessment scores, build student schedules, track student attendance, and manage many other student-related data needs in a school.
The SIS is equivalent to an Enterprise Resource Planning or ERP system for a corporate customer. As such, many of the issues with ERP System Selection Methodology, implementation, and operation of an ERP system apply too.
These systems vary in size, scope and capability, from packages that are implemented in relatively small organizations to cover student records alone, to enterprise-wide solutions that aim to cover most aspects of running large multi-campus organizations with significant local responsibility. Many systems can be scaled to different levels of functionality by purchasing add-on "modules" and can typically be configured by their home institutions to meet local needs.
Until recently, the common functions of a student records system are to support the maintenance of personal and study information relating to:
- Handling inquiries from prospective students
- Handling the admissions process
- Enrolling new students and storing teaching option choices
- Automatically creating class & teacher schedules
- Handling records of examinations, assessments, marks, grades and academic progression
- Maintaining records of absences and attendance
- Recording communications with students
- Maintaining discipline records
- Providing statistical reports
- Maintenance boarding house details or Hostel/Dorm Management
- Communicating student details to parents through a parent portal
- Special Education / Individual Education Plan (IEP) services
- Human resources services
- Accounting and budgeting services
- Student health records
- Canteen Management
- Transportation Management
- Fees Management
- Inventory and Assets of the school
- Payroll processing for the Staff in the school
In larger enterprise solutions that have student data at their core, further functions include Student financial aid management and more may be customized by the developer. Where national or government systems exist for student finance or statistical return purposes, student records system often provide functionality that caters for this, by way of modules or core elements that handle the production of required files, or deal with the formatted transfer of information. Examples are the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) process in the United States, the United Kingdom's Student Loans Company processes (SSAR, SSAC and ATFEE file processing), the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) in the United Kingdom, or the HESA and HESES student statistical returns in the United Kingdom.
In the past, universities and large school districts in particular have created their own bespoke student record systems. One such example is the Repository of Student Information (ROSI) system at University of Toronto. With growing complexity in the business of educational establishments, most organizations now choose to buy customizable software, and increasing numbers are buying software as a service (SAAS). Most student information systems in use today are server-based, with the application residing on a central computer server, and being accessed by client applications at various places within and even outside the school. But student information systems have been moving to the web since the late 1990s and that trend is accelerating as institutions replace older systems.
Unlike an upgrade to a web browser or a word processor, changes and upgrades to these systems tend to have significant impact on the day-to-day operations of every school employee. These systems typically touch every aspect of school operations even when only the base modules are used. For these reasons, care should be taken to consider the impact on:
- Workflow: Since these programs are tightly tied to a school's business workflow and processes, a change to a SIS system can force changes to workflow. This can have a significant impact on daily operations if not considered carefully prior to implementation.
- Data Conversion: Data conversion of historic data (transcripts, attendance, health records, etc.) for both current and past students can also be a significant issue to transitioning to a new SIS. Since most schools are required to keep historical data on past students, considerations should be given to what information will be converted and what will be archived.
- Customized Reports: Since there is little standardization in what and how student information is stored, most schools have their own processes and procedures (e.g. formatting and layout of data reports) for student grade printouts or attendance records. As most SISs are not perfectly compatible with the previous SIS, upgrading can be a long, and tedious process.
- Training: Some new SIS programs have a tendency to include some unnecessary features, primary for the use of power users, so training employees to use the new SIS program will most likely be a costly and time-consuming process.
Like with an ERP system, schools should consider processes similar to the ERP System Selection Methodology when selecting a SIS system.
In a study involving districts known for strong data use, 48% of teachers had difficulty posing questions prompted by data, 36% did not comprehend given data, and 52% incorrectly interpreted data. To combat this, some SISs present data to educators in an over-the-counter data format (embedding labels, supplemental documentation, and help system and making key package/display and content decisions) to improve the success of educators’ data analyses when using an SIS.
- U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development (2009). Implementing data-informed decision making in schools: Teacher access, supports and use. United States Department of Education (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED504191)
- Rankin, J. (2013, March 28). How data Systems & reports can either fight or propagate the data analysis error epidemic, and how educator leaders can help. Presentation conducted from Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL) School Leadership Summit.