At AES, we transitioned our Elementary School from Veracross to PowerSchool this year while our Middle School was transitioned a year before.

One of the important milestone in this transition was semester-end report cards. Our previous report cards were based on Crystal Reports templates. As we migrated to PowerSchool and in the process adopted standards-based grading, a new solution was required. This post is my attempt to broadly outline the process and the lessons we learned in this project.

The Requirements
We were lucky to receive a basic design prototype which gave us the direction to build the report cards. When you begin a project, it is important you know what the Admin team expects as an end-product. Of course there will be iterations but having a this direction is very helpful and equally helpful was to constantly seek feedback during the prototype development so as to close in any gaps in the requirement.

Here is the screenshots of the initial design we received:

The Prototype
Based on the initial requirements we designed the report card as an Object Report in PowerSchool. It was easy and we used Visual PST for the design. However, we quickly came to realize the shortcomings. The key roadblocks we faced were in the following areas:

Grading Keys: Ours were standards-based grades were to be displayed as symbols and not numerical values which teachers were to enter through PowerTeacher Gradebook. Here is the screenshot of our grading key.

We started with pre-designed images for each level of grade-key so we could name them for each grade value and display them using the photo objects in the reports. It soon dawned that we can not dynamically create image tags for corresponding values of the standard grade-key since in Powerschool there is no way to attach a condition on a photo-object.

We could work around it by designing our own font – which is what we did – however, notwithstanding the formatting issues, there was another issue waiting to block our progression.

Displaying Teacher Comments: Our Middle School set up was done an year before our ES one and we used “assignments” as an object to award a grade upon for individual courses in specific semesters. The roadblock in ES context was that we cannot pull the “comments” on the assignments using data tags that object reports use. What!? Yeah, we could on the standard itself but not the comments that were made on assignments.

Homeroom Subjects: Homeroom subjects in our PowerSchool instance are not proper courses although Specials (P.E., Arts, Indian Studies, Music, World Languages) are. For example, HomeRoom is a course while Mathematics, Science, Social Studies etc. are not.

Attendance: There were some reliability issues related to attendance DATs and none of those specified in the documentation seemed to work in our case, although I do like to believe these were specific to us, but in general my observation has been that many schools – if not all – faced similar problems.

All in all, given the complexities and limitations of this easier way, we decided object reports was not the best way forward in our case and chose the way our MS had done it, that is, using SQL server reports. Another factor that weighed in was consistency of platform among all the three schools.

Prototype 2.0
While we shifted the platform to Visual Studio BIDS and SSRS, the key challenges remained:

The End Product

Here is the PDF of the end-product with some pages redacted.

But it doesn’t end there…

Setting up the Gradebook
With the design done, there was one key operational issue that still needed to be addressed and is very much relevant to the report card delivery: the grade book setup.

It was impractical to expect teachers or their assistants to get down to creating semester categories, then assignments and then mapping the standards in the grade book for teachers so they could grade students on them. Even by the standards of tech staff, this was a tedious job. But we found a solution…

We used Macros to achieve this task to minimize the technology overheard for the teachers and divisional tech. staff. Read more about this on Clint Carlson’s post on how he helped us achieve this.

Project Lessons:
Elementary Schools are known to have complex processes and procedures and working with them is always challenging, and at the same time a tremendous learning experience. I for one, definitely benefited from learning new systems like BIDS, Visual PST, and advanced SQL usage.

Here are specific lessons I learned in a project-management context:


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