By Anna Di Iorio-Reyes
Editor’s note: This is a developing story. Beacon is currently participating in a DOE beta program that has led to many of the consequences listed below.
“So, where can I see my grades?” Beacon students ask their teachers throughout the week. The question hangs in the air, as the only answer available is one that won’t satisfy anyone. Put simply: you can’t.
For all NYC DOE public school students, 2022-2023 school year grades are not available until October 17th. Teachers are just as irritated and powerless as students over this delay.
As of this school year, the DOE is requiring all public schools to use their system for grading, parent contact information, student schedules, and attendance.
“They realized that not having everything streamlined and in one place was not very efficient,” said Michael Anderson, who’s been a history teacher at Beacon for the past 11 years.
This meant that before this system, schools and teachers were relatively free to use the grading systems of their choice. For the past five years, Beacon has chosen PupilPath, also known as Skedula, although some individual teachers would have students use other websites, like JumpRope or TeacherEase. The 2021-2022 school year would be the last time Beacon used PupilPath, and in turn, also the last time Beacon teachers would use their own choice grading systems. A major breach in PupilPath last year leaked student information and also led to students being locked out of the site, and consequently, the DOE ordered schools to no longer use it.
This new DOE grading system is supposed to fill the role of a uniform grading system that can communicate information in a safe way. But for now, it seems to have created more problems than it was meant to solve.
The DOE’s idea of the grading system is one that could pay a lot of dividends, but just making a system that’s meant to be used by at least 100,000 people comes with its own challenges. “The trouble is, right now, it’s just not ready to go,” said Mr. Anderson, “and I think that is why a lot of people are frustrated with it.”
From the grumbles of students and teachers alike, it’s clear that the interface is confusing and difficult to use. Students, who have had a limited briefing about what is happening with their information, are particularly in the dark. Unable to check their grades and wandering from website to website has added more chaos to their lives.
Parents as well are left to figure out how to navigate the new system. The DOE has created new emails for all students so they’re able to use their website, but it’s up to the parents to remember new passwords and logins, let alone where to sign in in the first place.
However, the real toll has been on the teachers. Towards the end of the ‘21 – ‘22 school year, there was a meeting where teachers were shown the basics of the system and the different websites, and what it was going to (or supposed to) look like, “so we knew what was coming,” said Mr. Anderson.
It was still a challenge for the DOE to implement this system, though. “The union contract makes it so that it’s really hard for schools to mandate a grading system,” Mr. Anderson said. According to the United Federation of Teachers, a labor union representing teachers in NYC public schools, contract teachers can’t be forced to use grading systems like, for example, TeacherEase. However, the DOE is requiring that every school use the DOE system to, at the very least, communicate with parents and show grades. The DOE has not deemed it safe for grades to be shared through any website portal other than their own. “It wasn’t an ask,” said Mr. Anderson regarding the first time teachers were presented with the new DOE system.
“The school year’s already started and from a teacher’s point of view, when the school year starts, it’s really hard to take the time to employ a new system,” said Mr. Anderson, who has had to move his student’s grades to and from multiple websites, adding up to hours of work. As weeks have passed in the school year, and the grading system still isn’t up and running, the teachers are tasked with even more challenges.
Teachers, letting out exasperated sighs when doing attendance, often comment on how much easier PupilPath was to use. They could pull up the attendance on their phone, easily tap in an absence, lateness, or presence, and build a stronger name-face association with students, as the pictures students submitted to PupilPath appeared next to their names. Some teachers have resorted to completing attendance manually, filling in bubbles with a number two pencil, as a student would on the SAT.
“There were a lot of things that they didn’t consider when they were making the website,” said Mr. Anderson. For example, teachers aren’t able to smoothly submit grades if they’re not out of 100. This means they have to enter the percentage a student scores as opposed to the number of points. “So if a quiz is out of 8 points, and a student scores a 7 out of 8, I actually have to figure out the percentage,” Mr. Anderson said. “There’s just little things like that I think will eventually get fixed, but they make it frustrating.”
The idea behind the DOE system shows a lot of potential for what it could be. “All students being able to access their grades in the same system for all of their classes over the course of their entire high school career I think is a really good thing,” Mr. Anderson said. Something that the system also provides is a messaging website, which allows teachers to conveniently, for example, send out mass messages to parents.
“I think that once they work out the kinks it could be great, but they have to work out all the kinks first.”