What to Look for and What to Avoid

Advances in software have rapidly transformed our world with modern systems designed to improve productivity and efficiency in our daily lives. Yet many private schools are still using clunky, outdated systems that lead to stress, frustration, and wasted time. That’s why it’s vital for them to invest in products and services purposefully designed for private K-12 education. They provide administrators and educators with the tools they need to drive student success.

An SIS Acts as the Central Operating System for Schools

A student information system (SIS) runs the core of your school’s data infrastructure. Schools are receiving more insights from data than ever before, and your SIS must be capable of handling it all.

K-12 SISs maintain all the student data that teachers need to manage their classrooms and administrators need to run their schools. Information such as grades, attendance, contacts, and allergies are tracked through these integrated school software platforms.

A few key benefits of a comprehensive SIS include:

“My students’ positive success is largely because I use the right tool for the job. It empowers them to better results, which equals success!”
—Teacher at Cornerstone Christian Schools, WA

An SIS facilitates student learning outcomes through parent engagement. Parents have been identified as the most predictive factor for estimating educational outcomes, including higher school attendance1, grades, and classroom test scores.2 Yet research shows the key barrier is the lack of online resources.3 To overcome this hurdle, a modern SIS includes portals that allow parents to gain insight into how their children are performing in school as well as in-depth information on classroom behavior, attendance, academic planning, and more. Parents are able to communicate quickly and easily with their children’s teachers, which is particularly helpful when it comes to a time-sensitive question or classroom misbehavior that requires parental intervention.

An SIS is an Investment in Saved Time

An SIS connects the back-end components of school management together like gears in an engine. Each one powers the next, resulting in a time-saving machine. Automating the parent portal, report cards, transcripts, and billing allows schools to grow from surviving to thriving.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

Educators need products that will save them time, serve students, and foster school-to-home collaboration. Using outdated technology not only prevents schools from growing but leaves staff feeling exhausted and burned out. Organizations with old systems experience negative consequences such as inaccurate calculations, lost employee productivity, added employee stress, and dissatisfied parents. Make no mistake—there will come a point where you’re spending more money to maintain your legacy systems than you would if you had upgraded everything sooner.

5 Things to Look for When Buying an SIS

1. Total Cost of Ownership

It’s easy to make the mistake of only considering the initial costs of purchasing a new system. However, using inferior systems can result in the loss of instructional time and increased administrative time spent fixing errors or assisting staff. When evaluating an SIS, make sure to include indirect costs, such as training, the learning curve, downtime, and the need for any additional functions that aren’t built-in. Look for a reliable system that is easy to use; offers proper tech support, professional development, and parent training for no additional charge; and works via the cloud, eliminating the need for any special equipment or dedicated computers—and adding the benefit of working wherever you have internet access.

“First, administrators need to look at the expenses from a systemic view. Total cost of ownership is not just the cost at the beginning but the total cost over the years of the program. Most educators look at the cost of their devices and software, but the total cost includes professional development, technical support and sustainability costs.”4
—Dr. Soumakian, Principal in Oxnard, California

2. Security

The danger to your school’s data is real. According to The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, “during 2018, the misuse and abuse of school technology and IT systems resulted in 122 publicly-disclosed K-12 cybersecurity incidents. This equates to a rate of about one new publicly-reported incident every three days.5

Some schools think hosting their own SIS data provides better protection than cloud hosting. However, on-premises hosting is vulnerable to both physical damage and virtual security attacks. In addition, self-hosted environments require a great deal of time to build and maintain.

On the other hand, cloud-based SIS companies are able to offer best practices for up-to-date security measures at a low cost due to their economy of scale. Be sure your SIS security also includes backups and the ability to control levels of user access and privacy—you don’t want your database inadvertently shared with another organization.

“This system works very well for keeping all of our student information in one secure place that can be accessed from any computer with internet service. It is a tremendous help to our school!”
—Administrator Via G2

3. Ease-of-Use for Teachers

The pressure on schools from parents and the community to use educational technologies effectively is only increasing.6 Additionally, schools face the challenge of retaining quality educators at a time when research shows that 93% of teachers are at risk of burnout from working many more hours than they are paid for.7

A modern, user-friendly SIS combats these challenges by making it easy for teachers to work more efficiently so they spend less time on administrative tasks, allowing them to focus on what really matters – teaching.

“Gradelink has been user-friendly… We do not need to set aside days to do teacher training. The program is simple enough that brief training sessions and video links are all we need to train new teachers.”
—Legacy Christian Academy, San Jose, California

4. Ease-of-Use for Office Staff

When office staff wears multiple hats, it’s important for private schools with small office teams to seek out management systems that necessitate only minimal training. After all, the prospect of requiring office staff to attend lengthy training sessions for complicated school software systems is neither frugal nor reasonable for most schools — especially for those where the principal doubles as a teacher. On top of that, the time and expense involved in correcting errors made by staff members can add up significantly. That’s why it’s vital for an SIS to be as comprehensive as possible while still being easy to use.

“It is a breeze to place the items into the software. Even those who are not ‘computer savvy’ can get this with minimum training.”
—Ahlus Sunnah Schools, East Orange, New Jersey

5. Customer Experience

The customer experience includes three distinct areas: Implementation, Training, and Customer Service. Finding an SIS that provides the level of support you need will help you identify the right match. Not all SISs provide the same level of service, so it’s important to ask for specifics: Is live phone support available? Will you have a dedicated support agent? What is the average response time when you need help? SISs typically charge for implementation services8, and some also charge for training and customer service, so be sure to ask.

Implementation involves the process of moving your data into the new platform and customizing the database to your school’s unique needs. Inaccurately-transferred student data can ruin your experience, so it’s essential to understand the process used by the SIS company and what their policy is when “bad data,” such as an invalid email address, is encountered.
Customizing your account is another critical step to a successful experience. Ask who is responsible for customization — the SIS provider or the school.

“The implementation and training went smoothly. My teacher and staff are extremely happy with the ease of use compared to our previous programs, yet it still has all the convenient features we wanted from the larger vendor.”
—St. Bruno Catholic School, Los Angeles, California

A powerful student information system has the potential to streamline a vast array of education processes, but without proper training and support, it’s unlikely any organization will be successful with it. While some SIS vendors provide training programs, they often take several hours to complete, making it unrealistic for many users. Therefore, it’s crucial to look for SIS vendors that offer training programs that match the needs and time allotment of your staff.

“We’ve experienced nothing but super-responsive tech support since switching back to Gradelink two years ago. Bravo!”
—St. Bruno Catholic School, Los Angeles, California

The best SIS companies offer a personalized touch: their understanding of your school and its unique characteristics results in valuable time saved and a positive experience. Across industries, 60% of customers report stopping business based on poor service experiences.9 It follows that using an SIS with poor customer service could mean you will need to find a new one before long. Therefore, be sure to seek out an SIS provider with a reputation for offering top-notch customer service.

We’re Here to Help

School management is full of challenges. Your student information system shouldn’t be one of them. In fact, at Gradelink we make it downright simple.

  1. Click here to watch a free demo.
  2. Let us get you set up. We custom build your custom account and train your staff.
  3. Rest assured. We back you up with top-rated personalized support.

“Customer service is second to none, with quick response time, and great assistance getting things set up.”
—Denise J., Adjunct Professor

SIS Buying Guide References
  1. Fan X, Chen M. Parental involvement and students’ academic achievement: a meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review 2001;13(1):1–22.
  2. Epstein J, Sheldon S. Present and accounted for: improving student attendance through family and community involvement. The Journal of Educational Research 2002;95(5):308–318.
  3. Garbacz, S. A., Hirano, K., McIntosh, K., Eagle, J. W., Minch, D., & Vatland, C. (2018). Family engagement in schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports: Barriers and facilitators to implementation. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(3), 448–459.
  4. Ann McMullan, How to plan for edtechs total costs. Edscoup 5/24/2019
  5. The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center | The State of K-12 Cybersecurity: 2018 Year in Review
  6. 2017 CIO Agenda: A K-12 Education Perspective. Gartner, 2017
  7. The VoicED. Survey finds private school teachers are at risk of burn-out.
  8. Capterra | How Much Does School Management Software Cost?
  9. Microsoft | 60% of Consumers Have Stopped Doing Business with a Brand Due to Poor Customer Service

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