By Eddie Yelkin There has been a lot of confusion among students, parents, and teachers about the new online grading and information system, Synergy. We talked to teachers and computer technicians to get to the bottom of the problems and the benefits of the new system. Reviews were definitely mixed. “Synergy is the new, all-purpose
By Eddie Yelkin
There has been a lot of confusion among students, parents, and teachers about the new online grading and information system, Synergy. We talked to teachers and computer technicians to get to the bottom of the problems and the benefits of the new system. Reviews were definitely mixed. “Synergy is the new, all-purpose grading/student information platform launched by Lincoln Public Schools in August 2014,” English teacher and Synergy trainer Jack Bisbee said. “It is designed mostly for teachers, and mostly to be more of a complete portal for use with grading, communication with students and parents, taking attendance quickly, and providing daily lesson planning,” Bisbee said.
This “one-stop shop website” idea, sounds wonderful in theory, but as with any new technology there are some growing pains when it comes to actually using it on a daily basis. “I trained my English department colleagues before school year began, and we found many of the functions on Synergy to be helpful and straightforward, however frustrations have been noted [compared to] the previous grading system, Pinnacle,” Bisbee added. “In many respects Synergy offers the same opportunity that Pinnacle did, parents can log online and view their students grades and attendance assignments and their able to communicate and get messages from teachers so there are many features that are the same way they did when we were using Pinnacle.” LHS computer technician Susan Haller said.
“I think one advantage is that a lot of things that we used to have to go back and forth between different programs to find or use is now in the one program. As to criticism of the new program, “I think anything different can feel like a negative while you get used to it, like with getting a new phone or a new app that you’re not sure about, takes you a while to navigate it, but I think the more time that goes by those things that are different will seem like less and less of a big deal to us. It takes some time to get used to the way things look and where to find things. When everyone is busy, sometimes the little bit of extra time it takes to find something seems like a big deal,” Haller said.
“It’s got a lot of reports available for staff, and there’s a lot more things that parents and students can view when they log on to their student view account,” Haller said. “So I think the more information that we share with the students and parents on a daily basis is definitely a positive.” Who maintains the system now? “Synergy is a product that LPS bought from a company called Edupoint, and we purchase it from them,” Haller said. “There are some things we will, in the future, maybe be able to customize for LPS,” she added. “I don’t know if I would say it’s easier or harder [than Pinnacle]. It has been fun to explore the program, and I like to learn new things so that aspect has been fun,” Haller said.
“In the past we used more than one system to get information in an easy to use easy to read way and now everything we need comes from Synergy.” Haller said. “I think that the parents students, staff, and families have been very adaptable and very patient and willing to learn. The interactions and questions I’ve had have been very positive. I’m very proud of everyone’s willingness to take on the challenge of learning the new system and I’m proud of how adaptable everyone has been with the change.” “It shows a lot more information, and I like that,” English teacher Marilyn Shaffer said.
“But trying to figure out all that information and how to get to it is a little more difficult,” Once we’ve finally reached the point where we understand and are able to access all the information, it will be fine, Schaffer added. “But right now you know, I’m not there yet. It is a work in progress. Luckily i’m not the only one that has this issue so i don’t feel like its just me. I will just keep pushing forward. That’s my conclusion.” “I call it Synical!” English Teacher Deborah McGinn said. “Pinnacle was faster and easier to get to grades and review with parents and students. I want to stay positive, but it is not as smooth as I’d like it,” McGinn said. “Doing grades and attendance is not bad. I don’t see that it is any better than what we had,” Special Education teacher Tami Kaiser said. “The Special Ed part of Synergy is awful. I have spent hours (and hours) on one IEP, so far,” Kaiser added.
“SLOW,” French Teacher Lynda Graham-Rowe said. “I have to navigate a LOT just to take attendance etc., I have to save and wait or all posted grades disappear, seating charts go to the bottom and you either have to scroll down each time or manually move students back to the top one at a time,” Graham-Rowe said. “I wish we could go back to Pinnacle.” “I miss having the reports that I was able to access through AS400 in a matter of seconds,” ELL Department Chair Susan Hertzler said.
“With Synergy I have to go through a click on different fields, and THEN ask Synergy to create a report, then it has to be dropped into an Excel document, THEN I have to sort the information by different criteria, THEN I have to add rows for subtotals, and THEN I’m finally able to print IF I’ve done everything I should have.” Hertzler said “Also the reports that I need in order to be sure that I am serving the ELL students the best we can sometimes don’t have all of the information/fields that I need on the same screen, so I have to create separate reports,” Hertzler said. “Synergy does not have current ELDA testing data uploaded from the spring of 2014. This data is something that we use to move students to different levels and make sure they are in the appropriate levels,” Hertzler said. “We do have a hard copy taken from a HUGE document that is on docushare with this info, but it is extremely time consuming to look through it time after time.”
“Ultimately I haven’t been able to get a clear idea of this, if this will always be the way that these reports can be made or if Synergy will be able to provide short cuts sometime in the near future,” Hertzler added. “Synergy doesn’t save in real time, so I constantly have to remember to hit the Save button after each thing I do,” Reading/English Teacher Laura Aten said. “Also, since it doesn’t save in real time, I have to wait for it to save or think. I often am not sure if I really entered something into the grade book right. I fear that I will accidentally lose/delete something, so I have paper copies of all of my grades; something I haven’t done since my first year teaching, when we didn’t really have computer grade book systems,” Aten said.
“I think that tells me that this is a step back. I think we have taken huge steps back on this program,” Aten said. “I understand the intention of combining all of our information systems into one, but this is still really two information systems. We used to be able to get the old information systems to generate data for us and this new one can’t do the things the old used to be able to do,” Aten said “We still have no idea how to upload the RGDE results into the system, which is pretty crucial! We also don’t have a calculated GPA or class rank, also something pretty important! It also doesn’t… and the list goes on,” Aten said.
“I think this year everyone will get an A because Synergy is just too much… but Synergy will for sure get an F!” Aten said “I like having all information in one place,” Instructional Coordinator Denise Craig said. “I dislike that it does not provide all the information we want it to.” Business Teacher Nick Madsen said, “I like that there are notes that you can add for students and other teachers can see how they are doing throughout the day and if there are any problems. I dislike that there are too many “clicks” to get from one place to another. Pinnacle seemed a little easier to navigate.” Madsen said. “I like the new program, in general, but there are a few things needing adjusting,” Theatre Director Justin D. Holbein said.
“Administrators are not listed for individual students on their information profiles. This makes it very difficult to contact an Admin if a student needs help,” Holbein said. “The ability to look up students’ information is hampered by having to look in various places within Synergy when trying to find IEP’s or Health information on students,” Holbein said. “I believe the transitioning will be helpful in the future, but the question remains for how long? It seems we get a new system up and running, like Pinnacle, and then the District decides for a change and we are right back where we started, struggling to serve the students who need information from us the most,” Holbein said. How long will it be before we change to a new program? Only time will tell.