Baltimore County website that posts grades, classwork beset by glitches

The Baltimore Sun
Some teachers, parents say Baltimore County schools website has glitches

In the latest effort to be technologically savvy, Baltimore County schools launched a website this fall that enables parents to check on homework assignments and track their children's grades on tests and quizzes.

But so far, the system, which cost about $750,000 this year, has been hampered by technological glitches and the fact that some teachers aren't posting enough information, according to parents and teachers.

School district officials say the system, called BCPS One, was designed to enable parents to check on a student's progress and communicate more with teachers. Nearly 40,000 students, or 39 percent of those in enrolled in Baltimore County schools, have a parent who has signed up to use the system since August.

"We naturally expected throughout this first quarter there would be bug fixes," said Ryan Imbriale, executive director of innovative learning, who is in charge of the project.

Baltimore County is one of the first districts in the region to adopt a more advanced system that will eventually post curriculum as well. Other school systems could follow. Howard County, for example, is looking for a similar system to purchase.

Dallas Dance, Baltimore County schools superintendent, has started several new technology initiatives since he was hired two years ago. Besides BCPS One, he plans to gradually add laptops at schools, beginning with elementary schools, until every student has one.

But some of his technological advances have stumbled. When implementing the Common Core, a rigorous new curriculum last year, teachers had difficulty accessing lesson plans through an online platform.

Some parents and teachers have criticized the BCPS One website as well, with many saying they've had difficulty logging on to it.

In addition, teachers are reporting that they have spent hours putting data into the system and then found the information has disappeared when they sign on later, according to Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

She said the BCPS One system is "a daily drain" on teachers. The new online grade book has added "considerably to their workload and frustration."

She added that some teachers have not been fully trained on the system. When teachers have run into problems, she said, some technology teachers assigned to answer questions in schools have been unable to handle the problems.

Parents say the system can be slow and that not all teachers are using it as required.

Michael Darenberg, the parent of Middleborough Elementary School students, said that while the system seems to work, only two of his children's teachers are using it so far.

"The system would be a great system if they used it," Darenberg said. "I think the older teachers love to resist anything that is new. They see it as more work for them."

The system is being phased in over three years. While teachers are free to use it as much as they like, Imbriale said, this year they are only required to use it as their grading book.

Imbriale said problems have been dealt with immediately and that the entire system was upgraded Friday with technological improvements that have been requested by users.

"We have people who need additional support," Imbriale said, adding that video tutorials, print resources and an email address where questions can be sent have been provided to teachers, parents and students.

BCPS One will cost $750,000 this year and $714,000 annually for the next two years.

The system is expected to eventually give parents, administrators, students and teachers a central place to access course and grade information, as well as curriculum. Previously, only some schools in the district offered a more limited system where parents could access information.

"As a parent, I am able to monitor my child's progress," said Imbriale, whose children are students in the county school system. "I can get more information than I have ever gotten before."

Anne Arundel County has several systems that provide data to parents, students and teachers. And Baltimore City has a system called Parent Portal that gives parents access to grades as well as discipline and attendance records. Carroll County has an online system similar to the city's.

Harford County schools use a system that enables teachers to post assignments and grades, and communicate with parents. Harford plans to have a more elaborate system that can handle curriculum in the next school year.

Baltimore County parents can sign on from a home computer, at the library or on their smartphones at any time.

BCPS One also provides easier access to digital educational content purchased by the school system from outside companies. Teachers used to have to access the materials by signing on to the websites of those companies. Now students and teachers can go to BCPS One for the material.

Juliet Fisher, who lives in the Towson area, said she has had some technological problems with BCPS One but that she likes the system. In particular, she likes getting access to information about her eighth-grader's courses and grades.

"It could be a really good resource," she said, adding that the amount of information available varies depending on the teacher. "I am sure it puts a greater burden on the teacher."

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