8/13/15 ABSS to keep using Home Base

ABSS to keep using Home Base
Data collection tool helps tailor students’ education
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 8/13/15  
Reprinted with permission.      

   The Alamance-Burlington School System will keep using the state’s data platform, Home Base, as more of its cost shifts to districts.

   Home Base gives districts a variety of computer-based tools to collect student data and to tailor education to individual students. Differentiation, as it is called in education, is seen as a potential solution to the achievement gap, and what technology could bring to education.

   The part of it that parents will be most familiar with is Power-School, the student data system that tracks things like grades and attendance. The state requires schools to use PowerSchool and also pays for it. Other features of Home Base are optional and will cost.

   All 115 districts opted in last year when federal Race to the Top funds paid for everything, said Tracy Weeks, chief academic and digital learning officer with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, but RttT funds are coming to an end. The unfunded cost of the suite of Home Base tools would be $4 per student, according to a DPI memo. For ABSS, that would be about $90,000 at last year’s attendance level.

   Weeks said DPI worked that down to $3 and then $1 thanks to some federal funding, about $22,500 for ABSS.

   ABSS is using money from the state that’s designated for technology, according to Angela Bost, ABSS assistant superintendent.

   For that, districts get several more tools, like School Net, which gives teachers access to thousands of different teaching materials aligned to state standards, and lets them easily enter results in the student data system. A lot of those materials are available for free elsewhere, but School Net will save teachers a lot of searching.

   “So it’s very easy for a teacher to go in and search, ‘I need science materials for grade three,’” Weeks said. “So it’s really meant to save time.”

   School Net also has a lot of assessments that teachers can use to see whether students have absorbed lessons so the classes can move on.

   ANOTHER TOOL ABSS is already using is the N.C. Educator Evaluation System. Truenorthlogic lets the district post and share its own teacher training materials tied to ABSS’ curriculum, and track how much training teachers are getting for their license renewals. Again, this can be done without Home Base, Weeks said, but having it on one platform with one log-in makes it simpler.

   Weeks said 114 districts have already opted in to the full Home Base system, and the last one was working on it.

   The federal funds, which keep Home Base relatively inexpensive — especially compared with the cost of lesson plans and comparable tools — will probably be gone next year, Weeks said. So the N.C. Board of Education has asked the General Assembly to set aside funds, Weeks said, though it is not in the budget yet.

   “We will continue to seek many avenues to make this as cost effective for the districts as possible,” Weeks said.