New online attendance system knows if you are in class and on time

Originally published on May 29, 2015

Out with the old, in with the new. The new online attendance system has brought accurate information and is more efficient than paper strips.

Unlike the old system, which required teachers to submit a bubbled-in scan tron for every class meeting, teachers now use the website Synergy, a Student Information System that transmits the attendance directly to the school’s office and the District throughout the day. With the old system, teachers were expected to submit the strips to the office by 3:30 p.m. If registry attendance strips were not turned in on time, the school’s budget was affected in a negative way.

The new program offers several new features: teachers who aren’t good at matching names to faces can mark students absent or tardy by clicking the student’s name or picture. They can also mark students 30 minutes tardy to show the student has been present for less than half the class.

“I have been receiving calls home from the district saying I am absent when I haven’t been.”

In late February, SFUSD gave teachers and staff members new laptops for taking attendance online. This was the first time that the District provided each teacher with his or her own laptop. These laptops can be easily spotted due their yellow stickers saying “Laptops for Educators.”

Ever since the switch to the online attendance system, at least a few students have noticed some inaccuracies in the autodial system, a system that calls students’ homes when they are absent for more than one class. “I have been receiving calls home from the District saying I am absent when I haven’t been,” junior Jarrett Tom said.

The issue is taking longer to fix because the school district contracted the auto-dialer from a third party, according to Dacotah Swett, science department chair and teacher on special assignment. Swett has been overseeing the implementation of the new attendance system. Lowell is not the only school in the District having issues with the auto-dialer, she said. She hopes the system is fixed by the start of the 2015–16 school year.

“I personally think that this is a better system because we should know where every student is every period of the day.”

Teachers said the new online system is convenient. “I think the new system is wonderful,” Spanish teacher Carol Cadoppi said. “I have my paper copy, and I take roll the same way I always have while the students are involved in some sort of activity. It doesn’t take any more class time than it needs to, and then when I have a break I do the attendance on the computer.”

As the District’s largest school, Lowell was the last to implement the new attendance system. The system was changed in hopes to ensure better attendance records. “I personally think that this is a better system because we should know where every student is every period of the day,” Swett said. “The potential for good use of data is much higher than our old system, because as soon the teacher takes attendance, it is entered in the system immediately, rather than waiting for the strips to come down and be scanned by hand.”

Heidi Anderson, a Public Relations Manager at SFUSD, said the purpose of the system is to increase the proportion of attendance that is posted by the end of the day. “District wide, we have moved from about 30 percent of recorded data posted to the system by the end of the day to over 80 percent posted to the system by the end of the day,” Anderson said. She was unavailable to answer questions about why Synergy was chosen as the District’s Student Information System.

“Now there are no strips to remind teachers to take attendance, which makes it is easier for teachers to forget to take attendance.”

The switch to the laptops has been efficient but for some teachers, but difficult for others. “When we did attendance on the strips, it was easier to remember to take attendance because the strips would be laying around acting as reminders,” Swett said. “Now there are no strips to remind teachers to take attendance, which makes it is easier for teachers to forget to take attendance.”

The school has not yet had a chance to look at the collected data to decide whether the new system has improved students’ attendance, but hopes are high. “We hope that this system can bring us more timely data, so that if students are absent for a class we can take care of their needs better,” Swett said.