Friday, March 6, 2015

"We'll Come Again Next Thursday Afternoon"

I must be the crazy one.

I was no fan of ARIS, the all-in-one stop for teacher training, school stats and student information or of the people who created it. I used to joke that it was $81 million of after school programs and PSAL sports spat out without a thought of how or even whether people would use it.

Well, no one used it.

No one except for me, that is! ARIS had information about my students that I could not find anywhere else. It had the most up to date telephone contacts. It had a record of how well my students performed in such skills as organizing and making predictions and using reasoning. It told me which of my students were Language Learners, which were not and which had been but were currently not. It told me which questions on the last Regents' exam each of my students answered correctly and which they did not. It not only told me what 'skill level' my student was, but it indicated the decile levels -far more accurate than measuring by levels I, II, III or IV for each student in my school.

It even told me which schools my students had attended. After a while, I came to know these schools well enough that I could safely presume that a 'Level III' who had made their way to my classroom from school x may not be quite as skilled in, say organized writing, as a "Level III" who had came to my school from school y. That's a nice level of understanding to be able to have on day one of a school year.

These bits of information can help a teacher draw a picture of about their class of students and that helps a teacher devise scaffolds and solutions to help those students succeed. It helped me, for instance, with grouping (I never sat 'school x' and 'school y' students near each other). It helped parental contacts. It helped me know which students I needed to scaffold for on a given assignment and which students I didn't. And all this information was one quiet moment and a login away -literally at my fingertips.

ARIS was shut down last year. The Chancellor sent out word that the contract with Klein & Co, was up and that it would be renewed and that ARIS was going a bye-bye.  Gone was the $81 million symbol of mayor Bloomberg and gone was the most prolific vestige of former lawyer Joel Klein in our public schools. As of December 31, the domain that hosted ARIS no longer worked. The DoE also announced that the system would be replaced with something very similar and built from inside the DoE.

Well that replacement never came. The promises to have a replacement up and running for teachers has yet to be kept.

It's been two months without a student information system and I can no longer quickly ascertain important data about the students who I teach.

Instead of looking up their phone number, I must ask for a blue card -just like I did 13 years ago. Instead of seeing the decile level of my students, I have to guess -just like I did 13 years ago. Instead of knowing whether my students have a need that requires a tad more attention, I have none until I figure it out -just like I did 13 years ago.

Am I crazy to miss a tool that allowed me to see background data about my students? I must be. To date, I  have seen not one complaint about the lack this tool that teachers once had at their disposal.

And now, while everyone seems happy about the demise of ARIS (honestly, saying something bad about ARIS wins you friends in some parts of the city) I am flying as blind in the middle of a school year as I ever had before ARIS came along.

Don't get me wrong. ARIS was an enormous pain in my behind. But it was a tool -and that tool is no longer there for me to use.

Promised, but not there.

Now some of the activists I speak with will tell you that ARIS was a bomb. They'll say that it was a waste of taxpayer's money and an insult to the schools, since it was so closely associated with Joel Klein. Some may even say that it was the epitome of big data in the city schools.

While I actually agree with reasoning around Klein, there is an important fact that these activists won't ever acknowledge: That was a tool that was utilized by regular classroom teachers across the city and it helped those teachers draw a more accurate picture about the students who walked into their classrooms each year.

They'll also decide not to acknowledge that no tool has arrived to replace it.


  1. I agree 100%. Furthermore, ARIS was the tool we used to check the validity of our APPRs. Hmmm. Now why would the DOE not want us to be able to do that?

    Student data should be entirely proprietary, so , cancel the Klein contract, for sure. The DOE was effectively paying the NYPost to warehouse *very* confidential data regarding one million children. Are you kidding? The same company responsible for cellphone hacking? Klein, himself, was the defense Attorney in the hacking scandal. What, on earth, would make one thing the data would be private?

  2. They gave access to charter schools - Eva used private info to recruit elite kids for charters.

    1. Oh, then it makes perfect sense to make sure that teachers don't have anything to use. Instead of firing the people who gave admin access and taking the user permission away from a charter, they'll just ...hold up ... Take the damn tool away so no one can make of it or anything similar.

      This is that moment when real teaching and real teachers become an afterthought to policy ...

  3. I'm an ESL teacher and I totally agree with you. I used ARIS weekly to quickly look up my student's NYSESLAT scores for the past 3 years, contact information, first date of entry into the school system, home language, etc. There is simply no other system in place to turn to when someone asks me if a student is ELA exempt or not. I don't have a computer to access the other systems and have to turn to the overwhelmed secretary to run reports for any piece of data I need.