A streamlined system: IMPACT to Aspen


Maggie Nielsen

Ms. Velazquez, left, Ms. Kerri Thompson, center, and Ms. Velez, Lane Tech’s Change Champions — the resident Aspen experts. The Change Champions have been helping to facilitate meetings and teaching Lane staff how to operate the new system.

By Maggie Nielsen, Editor-in-chief

At 4 p.m. on Dec. 19, as this story was going to press, CPS announced in an email that the district-wide rollout for Aspen is being delayed until April 22.

Whether it’s constantly refreshing to see one’s schedule before the school year starts or waiting for the final exam grades to be entered, students rely on IMPACT Student Portal to keep them updated on grades and attendance.

However, on Jan. 7, CPS is rolling out a new program: Aspen.

The hunt for a new Student Information System (SIS), the place where students can log on to view important personal information such as their grades and attendance, began after IMPACT (the old SIS) and the attached systems were retired by their vendors, according to CPS.edu.

A nine-person committee, staffed by school-based and CPS central office staff, was tasked with the job of finding a new SIS. After reviewing seven different proposals, the committee agreed that Aspen was the right choice for CPS, according to CPS.edu.

The five year $7.9 million contract was signed Nov. 18, 2015, and the agreement with Follett, the company that owns Aspen, was announced in May of 2016. The contract ends in December of 2020 with two additional renewal options.

Aspen is used by 236 school districts in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website.

The District of Columbia’s school district (DCPS), which has an enrollment of about 48,000 students, recently made the switch to Aspen.

According to Ms. Kerri Thompson, who is in charge of the Aspen transition chapter at Lane, DCPS is a large district, and they’ve had a successful transition.

“The people who run Aspen have gone through a transition like this with an extra large district, so I think they know what kinds of hiccups have happened and are working to make sure those don’t happen with us,” Thompson said.

According to CPS.edu, one of the reasons Aspen was chosen as the new SIS was because of its “intuitive user interface,” which will help staff, students and parents navigate the site.

“I think it’ll be easy to pick up as time goes on,” Mr. Tarbhai, APUSH and History of Chicago teacher, said. “Right now, it’s just new and a lot of people don’t like new stuff.”

Various staff members throughout CPS and Lane are helping to make the transition as seamless as possible.

Teachers have been encouraged to experiment with “The Sandbox,” the experimental platform that’s designed to help teachers get used to the new software.

In addition to The Sandbox and a couple professional development days designed to help teachers transition, there are also “Change Champions” in place to help troubleshoot any problems that might occur.

“The Change Champions are supposed to be your local go-to person for questions, and when we don’t know the answer, or we can’t find the answer on our own, then we reach out to the district level and ask our questions there, so it’s sort of a funnel to the next line of communication,” Thompson said.

One of the benefits of Aspen, according to Thompson, is that a lot of information, communication and support for students will all be in one place, as opposed to the IMPACT system.

In addition to inputting grades and attendance, Aspen includes databases for class schedules, athletic eligibility and information about students’ data and can track individual students’ needs, such as 504 plans.

“Some students might have a 504 plan or individualized education plans and teachers need to be aware of their accommodations,” Tarbhai said. “Teachers currently have to go to a seperate platform and track down what those things are, but in Aspen, you can hover over and click on an icon over a student’s name and it’ll give you some of the things you have to be on the lookout for.”

However, a petition on MoveOn.org raises concern that some of the information that Aspen will be collecting, such as country of origin and citizenship status, may compromise students’ safety.

The petition, which has over 600 signatures as of Dec. 18, calls for a delay in implementation of Aspen in order to get permanently remove the identifiers that could potentially put students at risk.

“As educators, our most important responsibility is to maintain a safe and secure environment for our students so that they can learn,” the petition said. “We cannot allow our students or their families to be threatened.”

One of the concerns mentioned in the petition was the security of students’ sensitive information. CPS has had one prior data breach this year in which information on 80,000 people was stolen.

“I hope that with the money being spent, the system will be safer and it will protect the privacy of our students and the school,” Dylan Pauel, Div. 051, said.

Aspen’s website assures that “Aspen SIS safely and securely stores data.”

The Warrior sent an email inquiry to CPS to confirm whether Aspen will be collecting information about students’ citizenship status, but CPS did not immediately reply.

According to Tarbhai, there are concerns among staff that grades from IMPACT won’t transfer over to Aspen, which could cause discrepancies in students’ grades.

However, Aspen officials and Change Champions say that the grades will automatically transfer over.  

According to Thompson, there’s always some anticipation that comes with big changes.

“It’s a planned transition; [CPS has] done a lot of scaffolding and planning around training,” Thompson said. “There are user guides. There are all sorts of things that should help and be support for anybody using Aspen, so I would anticipate there being, certainly, some adjustments, but I wouldn’t go into a massive change like this with a negative attitude.”