PowerSchool is a powerful student information system that I became familiar with in my first overseas teaching job. I had used two other systems previously but was now amazed at being able to see attendance records, real time attendance, historical grades, current gradebooks and so much more in one place. As a learning support teacher and behavior probation case manager this information was invaluable.
I have worked at a few schools now that use PowerSchool (PS), and have continued to love it as a Learning Support (LS) teacher, but didn’t realize its full potential until I got to my current school, the American School Foundation of Monterrey.
The utility of PS that I saw here was especially salient because I was part of a team at a previous school that was looking at how to either use the “PowerSchool Special Education” PS plug-in, or use the native features to support our department, and it was hard to find out what people were doing at other schools. We had people share ideas like, “My friend made a plug-in, I will send you his email”, or “at ISM they did a lot of stuff with PS, we should talk to them”. But in investigating how other schools were using PS to help Learning Support (LS) programs, it was hard to find a lot of info. And in retrospect, a lot of ideas we developed in our team only hinted at the true possibilities.
So once I saw all the things my new school was doing I wanted to share how I use and have used PS, in order that future schools could see one way to use PS to keep the LS program tight.
So here we go!
How PowerSchool can help the Learning Support Teacher
The first thing I do when I get to a school is inquire about receiving admin access to PS.
There are different ways the PS administrator can set it up, but I usually push for ‘view only’ access to as much as possible, and access to the teacher’s gradebooks. Once you have the admin access to PS you can see everything from real time attendance to run reports for all students in 8th grade who have a grade below 70, for example.
Having access to all the teacher gradebooks helps out for two key reasons. One is for doing case management, and the other is when working in a push-in class relationship.
One of the biggest case management benefits comes while doing regular grade checks where you can simulate how different grades for an assignment could have affected the student’s overall grade. I’ve had conversations like, “remember that scaffolded study guide I offered you? You didn’t do it, and you said you did no studying, and you didn’t pass the test. If you had gotten at least a 70 on that test your grade right now would be….. and if you want to stay on the track team you need…..what are you going to do next time before a test?”
It can also help when doing grade checks and you see a low grade on something and the student says something we have probably all heard, “everybody did bad on that quiz!”. With the gradebook access you can actually verify this and it helps you not only plan next steps with the student, but also possible conversations with the teacher to see if there are some ways you can help support the student better…..or ways we could.
And more importantly, in the push-in class it really helps to have access to the whole gradebook of that class as you do things like progress monitor tiered interventions more easily by looking at formative and summative data for the whole class and easily log everything instead of searching student by student in PS.
In addition, it helps you to see the whole picture more clearly. For example, if you did x, y, and z to support some students in a given unit, then saw that their grades were very high on the summative, but you hadn’t seen the whole gradebook and realized the whole class did extremely well on this particular unit, you might falsely attribute what you did as a cause of the grade increase when actually it may have just been that that unit was more accessible for all.
In the same vein of summatives (and formative assessments), having gradebook access helps to be able to see the whole class as you can more easily see who may benefit from some small group instruction and other supports, and have better planning conversations with your co-teacher. Whereas often what happens when you don’t have this access is that a concern comes up from a teacher while you are having a planning meeting and you have to come up with ideas on the spot. That works a lot of time, but I know for myself I do better when I can ruminate on a matter at hand, check my resources, see what I’ve done in the past maybe, and then start planning some next steps.
There is an abundance of data that can be put into PS to help us make decisions. The following are the areas that I use the most:
-historical grades (often listed quarter by quarter over the years)
-testing scores such as MAP test scores (Measure of Academic Progress)
-attendance for the year (to spot trends and set goals for absences and tardies)
-attendance for that day to see if they are on campus, but didn’t show up to see you for the study session….for example
– current grades
– teacher schedules (see when they have a class, who is in it, which room they are in, etc.)
– pull up the pictures in a one page doc of all the students in a push-in class so I can study their names (I hope that’s not weird!)
– find parent contact info
One cool feature is that when you are looking at a students grades in the ‘Quick Lookup’ area you can click a link at the bottom to email all teachers (as seen below). It comes in handy when updating about a new accommodation, a behavior plan, or anything. Whereas in the past I had to look at each teacher, type them in the email, find the right teacher, etc.
Features that a Department can use to Strengthen the Learning Support Program
Alerts are little images that you can create in PS in order to alert the teachers and other users to a given situation (i.e. medical alert). They can be seen in a few places such as in the attendance page, or you can pull up the whole class list of accommodations from the sidebar of your PS Teacher (not admin) landing page.
In the Learning Support and Wellbeing department we have four types of alerts with four corresponding colors that help teachers know the accommodations/strategies that a given child receives (straight from the IEP or learning plan). We have an alert for services relating to: psychology, counseling, gifted & talented, and learning support.
When a teacher is planning a unit, or an assessment, or is at the beginning stages of working with a student who is struggling a bit they can look at the alerts to review which accommodations have been found to be successful for the student and can go forward accordingly.
These alerts are updated at the end of each semester based on whether the students still need them or not. I was actually really surprised how easy it is to update. You just hit the alerts tab, find the alert for the service you provide and update as needed, then hit submit.
In order to help me with updating the accommodations I have a progress monitoring system that I use every six weeks or so that includes a section for students to help me update their accommodations. This is part of my hidden curriculum to help build self-determination with the students on my caseload. At the end of the semester I review the doc and figure out which accommodations I should put towards the top of the alert, and which ones I can take off of the alert all together.
NOTE: This has become a shared Google Spreadsheet….that really helps in our collaborating on the doc over the year.
When we decide to take an accommodation off of the alert we are to then mention this in a “Log Entry”.
Log Entries are an area in Powerschool where you can document notes about a student that people (with admin access) can reference in the future. It is helpful to have a systematic way to input the info (i.e. date, who is putting it in, etc.), and the following areas are included in Log Entries at my school:
– notice of meeting (i.e. Student Success Team meeting)
– change of placement
– yearly summary from psychologist, counselor and/or learning support teacher
Having this information that stays in the student’s ‘file’ year after year has been very useful when doing Tier 1 interventions, filling in Student Centered intervention logs, meeting with colleagues (i.e. a co-teacher), monitoring students, providing interventions, and more.
You just log into the admin portal, search a student name, then click the ‘Log Entry’ link on the sidebar on the left. From there you can see every entry that the student has had since entry to the school, and you can add a new one if needed.
Custom Screen page:
I don’t know the full extent to how a ‘Custom Screen’ page can be formulated, but it does say custom so…..maybe the sky’s the limit.
At ASFM we have about 15 separate custom screens that range from transportation to discipline trackers to a place where library fines can be listed. For the purposes of the LS teacher, the ‘Support Services’ custom screen is what I use…as seen below:
All of these check boxes indicate a different service that our department provides. We check the applicable service(s) for every student on our caseload a couple times a year (i.e. end of each semester) and this helps us track programs and run reports and do specific searches.
For example, if the ‘accommodations’ box is checked, when you run a PS search for students with accommodations as you plan for the finals week accommodations, all the students with accommodations will show up.
Just to give you an idea of what some of the acronyms mean I will list a few below:
SGI = small group instruction
GT = gifted and talented
T2 LS = Tier 2 Learning Support
T3P – IEP = Tier 3 Psychologist; student has an IEP
Running reports is not something I am very good at, but I will touch on it briefly because the utility is high from what I gather.
One of the first times I saw how useful this is was when meeting with the counselor at the beginning of the year and we were discussing students at risk in math, and we were looking at where my push-in and other supports could come into play. She quickly jumped into PowerSchool and ran a report for all students who ended the previous semester below a 70. She printed out the list, we highlighted the students who had a case manager and discussed a tentative plan of action for those that did not have direct support.
Here’s a look at the ways you can manipulate the data in the “Current Grades Report” custom report we have at my school. In the picture you can see you can look at certain grade levels, certain grades, etc. by using the drop down menu that indicates less than, equals, or greater than.
And in order to look at previous years you can just go to the top right of the screen and change the term to whenever.
Since learning this I have played around with it a bit and hope to use this feature a lot more as the years come.
I have investigated a bit and from looking at the reports tab there are upwards to 30 different PS specific reports, and then my school has a separate custom tab where someone has designed specific reports such as “All grade 12 students with no absences or tardies”, or “Historical MAP Report MSHS”, or the one the counselor used in our meeting, “Current Grades Report”. This makes it easy to get a lot of data at one time.
In addition to running reports you can also do direct searches in PS that get you a lot of info to help you, your team, the program, and the school.
Search in PS
When you arrive at the admin home screen you are greeted with this search bar situation:
Nine times out of ten I just use it to search up a student so I can do the things I mentioned above. There are a few ways to do this, but generally what I do is just type the students last name and hit search. From there you are presented with a list of students at the school with the last name and I hit CTRL+F (Find) and type the first name. I quickly check the grade level to see if it’s the right one, and bam!
While you can’t search by student first name by just typing it in, I have found a way to search by first name for those situations when you don’t know the student’s last name…which happens a lot in a push-in situation, or as you collaborate with teachers and you only have the first name.
You just type this into the search bar and hit enter: first_name=Student Name
I found this way to search on this site. They have a bunch more searches as seen in the image below. Getting familiar with these Boolean sort of ways of searching PS will make an LS teacher very effective. I’m a novice, but hope to keep this list handy and find a lot of info when needed.
In addition to searching names, we also have some searches that we do regularly such as:
1) Searching for all the students in a pull-out class (resource): T2LS=1;grade_level=8
This code comes from our ‘Custom Screen’ page where we ticked the box for T2LS (Tier 2 Learning Support), and then we can look at the grade 8 students in this example.
You can also take the codes in our ‘Custom Screen’ page like GT (gifted) and swap them in the equation above and search for all students listed as gifted in grade 8 for example: GT=1;grade_level=8
And as you get familiar with the different manners of searching you can play around with using the less than sign instead of equals, and things like that to get information for all types of matters ranging from planning classes to hiring decisions.
2) Accommodations searches
In order to find all the students who have accommodations in a certain setting you can take the equation from above but add the word ‘accommodations’ at the beginning.
Accommodations=1;grade_level=8 (this is for 8th grade)
This has proved very helpful when starting the year and finding students who may have slipped through the cracks in a transition document for example. This is to say that maybe they don’t get direct services anymore, but they still have accommodations. But since they don’t have services they didn’t end up on the official caseload list, but by doing this search you can add them to a watchlist or monitor list and make plans to either keep the accommodations or take them off as needed.
In addition, this search is really helpful when planning accommodations for a MAP test or a final exam.
I’m sure there are a bunch of other useful searches that we have, and categories that we could make, but these are the key things that come to mind right now.
If I had to be real I would say that I have seen less than half the capabilities that PS offers Learning Support teachers and departments. Shoot…probably less than 25% if I really wanna keep it real. I’ve even seen people that felt they had their head wrapped around PS capabilities and were surprised to see new data points that PS offers when cats presented them. It’s robust!
And the benefits are not just for Learning Support, but counselors, psychologists, admin, team leaders and more.
The possibilities that PowerSchool provides seem almost endless. It is daunting. Like the idea that teaching doesn’t get easier, you just get better at it….but work hard still. The more you learn about what PS offers, the more you realize they have even more capabilities. Get some!
Here’s a link a document on Google Drive that lists how another school did PowerSchool for Learning Support a few years ago when I found it while searching for exemplars. Due to the school not wanting me to share the document with their name, I took out their info, and the formatting is a little wonky, but hey: