What Will School Look Like This Fall? 3 Possible Scenarios

This summer, administrators across the US will be making plans to start the 2020-21 school year. While still uncertain, there are three likely scenarios:

Scenario 1: Remote Learning

Remote Learning takes place outside of the classroom. As seen this spring, educators and students relay information through discussion boards, video calls, online assessments, and more.

How does Otus help?

Otus centralizes communication, lessons, assessments, and data in one place. By integrating with any website, Google, and the district SIS, schools can ensure a streamlined learning experience for all users. Common lessons, learning resources, and assessments can also be created and shared directly with specific groups of students and teachers.

Scenario 2: Blended Learning

Blended learning combines classroom and remote learning. This may include staggered start times for students, modified schedules, and creating smaller class sizes in order to accommodate health and safety guidelines.

How does Otus help?

With all communication, lessons, and assessments organized in one platform, schools can be sure learning experiences are consistent in the classroom and at home. Administrators can also run quick data analyses of student performance to compare groups of students. Comparing in-class and remote student performance can help determine ways to improve blended learning. 

Scenario 3: Classroom Learning

Teachers and students may head back to the classroom for full traditional face-to-face learning.

How does Otus help?

Overall, Otus organizes and creates a more efficient learning experience for administrators, teachers, students, and families. With insight into real-time data, school leaders can better understand student performance and confidently make the right decisions for their students.

Click here to learn more about how your state is reopening schools in the Fall of 2020.

Leverage Otus to help you navigate every new day—whether your students are at home, in school, or a combination of both.


Identify Plagiarism With Our Newest Integration: Turnitin

We partnered with Turnitin to make grading better than ever. Turnitin is a great resource for educators to quickly differentiate plagiarized and original work. Now, you can scan any student work submitted in Otus for originality (your district must be subscribed to Turnitin Similarity to use this integration).

Here's how it works:

Let's say you want to create a rubric assessment in Otus that requires students to write an essay. Once that essay is submitted, you can send it to Turnitin through Otus. Then, Turnitin will scan the response and score the essay in your Otus Gradebook. Otus displays the originality score in two places.

In the Student Grid View, you can see student originality scores.

You can also see scores on each student response in the Individual Student Assessment View.

We're super excited to partner with Turnitin! If you're looking to enable this integration, head here.

Here's a quick video of Turnitin in action:


Confused About Relief Funding for K-12 Schools? Let's Break It Down.

Emergency relief funding is in the works for K-12 schools to focus on the technology, resources, and training to ensure learning always takes place, no matter where students are. "CARES Act", "Rethink Education Models Grant" and "Title IV funds" have been circulating the K-12 world, but what do they mean?

The CARES Act

The CARES Act is a law that addresses the economic fallout due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, congress has allocated $13.5 billion for schools to conduct continuous learning.

Check out these resources to see how your state is being funded:

ESSER Funding State Allocation Table
ESSER Funding Cover Letter

Schools must use the funds for three purposes: curriculum resources, devices, and connectivity. Students must have internet access and a learning platform they can easily access on their device.

The Rethink Education Models Grant

The Rethink Education Models Grant was created under the CARES Act. This grant supports individual states in implementing innovative ways to ensure continuous learning.

Title IV

Lastly, Title IV is a grant program dedicated to modernizing US schools by encouraging family involvement and supporting student needs, in various settings. Schools may have received Title IV funding before the pandemic. To sum it up, the CARES Act, the Rethink Education Models Grant and Title IV can all be used for similar purposes. For example, purchasing curriculum resources like Otus.

How does Otus fit?

Otus is an all-in-one platform designed to support learning, no matter where students are. Centralize learning, assessments and data in one hub that works with your favorite tools.
We're here to support your schools!


The True Test of Remote Learning: Assessment

This summer, schools will be tackling their long-term remote learning plans. Educators in China have been engaged in remote teaching and eLearning for months, and the biggest challenge they face? Student assessment. How do we know how our students are learning when they aren’t in the classroom?

As educators, we know face-to-face instruction is not simply passing out papers and taking attendance, just as remote learning is not sending info to students and tracking log-ins. Teachers want to measure student growth, whether they are in the classroom or at home.

With Otus, administrators and teachers can easily build and share multiple types of engaging assessments aligned to learning standards. Whether you are using traditional multiple choice tests to assess learning or providing students with personalized video feedback, you can be sure that student learning is measured effectively and authentically. Popular tools such as Google, TurnitIn, Desmos, and Texthelp, are already integrated in Otus.  

Otus is an all-in-one platform that brings learning, assessment, and data management tools together so educators can confidently teach and assess their students—no matter where they are.

Enter your info here, and we’ll reach out to learn more about your school’s assessment needs.

How Does Your LMS Measure Up?

Otus

Your LMS

Ability for teachers to create, distribute, and analyze formative assessments to differentiate instruction

X

Ability to assign different resources to groups of students based on data

X

Ability to create benchmark assessments aligned to standards

X

Comprehensive item bank aligned to standards

X

Analytics on student learning outcomes for teachers and administrators

X

Ability to store third-party data (NWEA, iReady, etc.)

X

Ability to use video, audio, and other formats for assessing performance tasks

X

 

“Our Teachers Aren’t There”: The impact of an administrator’s fixed mindset.

While educators encourage teachers and students to have a growth mindset when it comes to teaching and learning, we need to consider how fixed mindset comments—rather than growth mindset comments, made by administrators—adversely impact teachers.

From time to time,  school or district administrators tell us that their teachers “aren’t there”. This most often happens after we ask administrators to describe how teachers in their schools use data to inform instruction. Administrators will say that while they wish teachers used data more frequently, the teachers “aren’t there”.

My favorite educational thought leader (also my wife), Lisa Westman, weighs in on the “our teachers 'aren’t there' mindset when it comes to using data: 

“Many teachers are there, but the reality is that they are often frustrated that it takes so long for them to get data from administrators. And even if some teachers “aren’t there”, their students are ready and waiting. It is the teachers’ obligation to determine instruction and monitor student learning based on students’ needs, and using current data is an essential component to make that happen successfully.”

Here is the good news. The three most common reasons administrators believe their teachers “aren’t there”, actually have little to do with teacher data readiness and everything to do with data accessibility. And,—even better news—there are remedies for all three of these issues:

#1: Providing teachers with access to data is nearly impossible

A wise professor of mine once noted that “schools are data rich and information poor.” Data can be found everywhere: your SIS, state assessments, district-level assessments, classroom assessments, the dozens of one-off EdTech apps your teachers use, the anecdotal events that happen each day… all of these data points are scattered across a myriad of systems. Organizing all of this data for your teachers is time-consuming and the processes to streamline information are inefficient, resulting in the de-prioritization of data collection and analysis.

Remedy: Streamline the technologies that are used in your school. Think about all of the technology tools that generate data and identify ways that teachers and school leaders could all use a common platform that is able to efficiently visualize data in real-time. Note: this is why we built Otus.

#2: Data Days occur too seldom to be systemically effective

Let’s be honest. Coordinating Data Days is expensive and time-consuming. Hiring substitutes to cover classes so that teachers can spend a chunk of time analyzing data is costly (both financially and to instructional time for students)! Additionally, by the time Data Days roll around, teachers might be analyzing data that is no longer relevant to their classrooms (i.e., assessment data from a test that was given to students months ago). Therefore, Data Days become special events that happen only once or twice per year, compiling and analyzing data that may already be outdated. Real-time views of student data, which would provide the most effective insights, do not exist without the right tools.

Remedy: Using a solution that enables instantaneous data input and analysis, which in turn improves educator efficiency, is at the heart of every successful instructional environment. Data is more than just summative test results; it is a powerful classroom resource that informs instruction on an ongoing basis.

#3: Choosing the right data for teachers is an ongoing challenge

Are state test scores the most important data for teachers to analyze? What about student discipline trends? Attendance? Or is it student performance on formative assessments? Maybe it’s a third-party benchmark assessment?

Arguably, all of these data points (and many more) are important for teachers to use when thinking about student growth. The challenge is being able to get all of this data to teachers in a way that they can use it. 

Remedy: Let teachers determine which data is most useful for the results they want to achieve at each point during the school year. Data can change behaviors as long as the data is relevant, timely, and presented in a way that is easy to understand.

So the next time you think about saying, “our teachers aren’t there” ask yourself how you can create conditions to get them there. Or better yet, include teachers as partners in the decision-making process so you can all share common goals and get “there” together.


edtech acquisitions

The Ripple Effect: What should you do now that your EdTech vendor has been acquired?

With private equity and venture-backed EdTech companies making multiple acquisitions of smaller EdTech companies over the past few years in an effort to consolidate the market, it is very likely that your school is using a product that has either just been acquired or has just acquired another company. Probably both.

Before we discuss what questions should be asked when an EdTech vendor is acquired, let’s discuss a few of the reasons that EdTech companies are sold.

Why do EdTech companies get sold?

In some cases, the co-founders of a company are ready to reap the financial rewards of having built a successful company and sell some or all of their company to someone else. Perhaps an owner wishes to start a new company that solves a different set of problems and decides to sell their current organization. Still, other companies that are not meeting expected growth or revenue goals may determine that additional resources from a new financial partner will take their organization to the next level.

If you encounter one of these scenarios with a partner vendor—whether they are the acquired company or are in the process of acquiring another organization—there are four questions you should ask them in order to understand whether they are the right long-term partner for you. We offer those four questions below, along with responses you should listen for.

4 Questions School Districts Should Ask Vendors When Their Product Gets Acquired

1. We like the people at your company. Will we continue to receive the same level of customer support as we have received in the past?

Talking points you will likely hear from the vendor:

  • You will continue to have the same or better customer support experience that you are used to having via phone, email, chat, etc.

  • Our response times to your support requests will not change or increase.

  • Our goal is to create a seamless experience as we transition into a new company.

The reality:

When one company acquires another, it is inevitable that many things will change for you. Initially, expect your vendor to provide many reassurances that you will not see any negative changes in products, services, or support. However, in all likelihood, the first year of acquisition will see duplicative teams—most from the acquired company—reduced or eliminated to streamline business operations. Processes, timelines and contacts that you have gotten used to will change.

2. Are you still committed to completing the features that were promised to our customer base to be on-time and on-task?

Talking points you will likely hear from the vendor:

  • Specific dates in which promised features would be delivered have not changed.

  • Our product manager (or another person in charge of the product’s roadmap) will be happy to assure you our delivery schedule is still on track.

  • We will be happy to set up a meeting between you, the original product manager (or whoever has been charged with building the product), and a representative of our new owners to discuss any concerns you may have.

The reality:

When one company acquires another, the development priorities of the new owners will oftentimes supersede those of the new subsidiary company.  This is especially true if the acquiring company has a product that directly competes with a product from the acquired organization.

Additionally, if the owners of the acquired company do not continue working with the new owners after the acquisition, institutional and “tribal” knowledge about products, processes, timelines, and customers can be lost, further creating confusion about priorities and promises that were made.

3. Will our school system be asked to switch to a different platform?

Talking points you will likely hear from the vendor:

  • You may use your current platform (no length of time commitment)

  • There are currently no plans to make customers who currently use [acquired company’s product] to switch over to [acquisition company’s product].

The reality:

In many instances, the acquiring company will purchase an organization that directly competes with them, effectively purchasing their market share. Initially, the plan will be to keep the acquired company existing “as-is,” which is especially true if a company is acquired during the middle of the school year. However, this usually doesn’t last long. Since it makes very little business sense for one company to offer multiple products that do the same thing, chances are very good that you will be asked to use whichever product that the acquiring company believes is the most profitable platform.

4. How will the two products work together?

Talking points you will likely hear from the vendor:

  • We will soon share details about the technical benefits of this acquisition

  • We will be working on closer integration between the two products so that our clients experience a seamless user experience

The reality:

The biggest obstacle to successful technology company mergers and acquisitions is when two products, typically designed using different programming languages by different developers, built on different platforms and at different points in time, attempt to be integrated into a seamless experience for users.

Assuming that you are currently using a vendor that has either acquired other companies or has been acquired by another company, ask yourself: was the result of the acquisition a more seamless experience between the two products, or a disjointed solution that makes data management and integration more challenging and frustrating?

Otus can help you understand your options

If you decide that the responses you received to the four questions above are not satisfactory, it is important that you understand your options for leaving your existing vendor, including the ability to get all your data.

Otus is a privately owned and fast-growing edtech company based in Chicago. A company comprised of world-class technologists, veteran educators, and alumni of the largest edtech companies in K-12, our people are our biggest asset and have the experience and expertise necessary to support your school community.

As large edtech corporations continue to buy smaller companies in an effort to provide the “all-in-one” platform that is useful to educators, keep in mind that Otus was built, from scratch, to be a pre-integrated learning management system, assessment management platform, and data warehouse that integrated with your existing SIS. To schedule a demo, click here.


Otus Expands Sales Team With K-12 Industry Veterans

Cedric Harrison
Cedric Harrison joins Otus as the Director of Strategic Sales.

Chicago-based education technology provider for K-12 school communities, Otus, today announced the appointment of several key additions to their sales team.

Cedric Harrison has been appointed to serve as the Director of Strategic Sales and will be based in South Carolina. A veteran of K-12 education, Harrison has worked for large and small K-12 businesses and at a state department of education specializing in student assessment, data analysis, and special education services.

“We are very excited for Cedric to join the Otus team,” said Otus Chief Operating Officer, Keith Westman. “Cedric's significant experience working with large school systems and state-level education organizations will help Otus continue to scale while doing so in a way that supports our goal of increasing educator efficiency while ensuring that students are seen as unique individuals with unlimited potential.”

"I am thrilled to join the Otus team," said Harrison. "Education, at its core, should be about the empowerment of our young scholars and supporting the teachers, school leaders, and families in that mission. I believe that Otus shares that vision and understands the role EdTech should play in K-12. Otus is doing something special and I wanted to be a part of sharing it with everyone."

Additionally, Otus announced the following additions and promotions:

  • Jennifer Gurss has been promoted to Director of Sales
  • Sarah Conway has been promoted to Business Development Team Lead
  • G. McKay Hawkes joins as a Regional Sales Manager based in Salt Lake City.
  • Jennifer Kalis joins as a Regional Sales Manager based in Nashville.
  • Kathleen Ciolli joins as a Sales Engineer based in Cleveland.
  • Kelly Winkler joins as a Regional Sales Manager based in Michigan.
  • Jim Hudson joins as a Regional Sales Manager based in Southern California.
  • Laura Spezio joins as a Regional Sales Manager based in New York.

About Otus

Otus is a Chicago-based education technology company that empowers teachers in the classroom, informs school leaders, keeps students engaged and organized, and helps parents stay better connected. We feature three primary components: a Classroom and Learning Management System, an Assessment Platform, and a Data Management system. Otus received a 2019 CODiE Award for “Best Administrator Solution” and was a finalist for "Best Data Solution". For more information, visit www.otus.com and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.


3 Ways Data Warehouses Fail K-12 Schools

Are Data Warehouses Failing K-12 Schools?


While many companies have attempted to solve the massive data problem that exists in schools by providing a K12 data warehouse, the reality is that traditional data warehouses very rarely move organizations forward. 

3 Ways Traditional Data Warehouses Fail K-12 Schools

1. Data is coming from too many different sources

In the 90s and into the 2000s, it was relatively simple to organize school district data into a data warehouse. After all, there were really only 3-4 different sources of data that schools would analyze: local assessments, state assessments, attendance, and discipline records.

Today, data is constantly being generated in K-12 schools. Whether it’s teachers who use online tools for formative or summative assessments, texting students and families, tracking student behaviors and awarding points, logging communications with parents and colleagues, and more, data is being generated today more than has ever been before.

The traditional data warehouse was not built to gather all of these different types of data which makes the data warehouse itself less valuable for educators, which brings us to our next point.

2. Many teachers do not find data warehouses helpful

With each tool a teacher uses generating helpful data, data warehouses are competing with each of those different tools for the data analysis attention of a teacher. Teachers, as they should, will use their time analyzing the data that they feel will help them most. Usually, that data will be easy to understand and based on activities that occurred in their classroom (not on a state assessment that was given last year).

If a data warehouse doesn’t show the data that a teacher wants to use, it won’t get used as administrators may expect, which leads us to our final point.

3. Vendors rarely get along well with others

Although it makes perfect sense that K12 vendors would want to share their data with other vendors that are used in your school district, this does not always happen. And, when an integration does exist between two different platforms, oftentimes the types of data that are shared does not meet your needs.

It's okay to disagree

In closing, a note to those who disagree with the premise of this blog post: if you have managed to wrangle all of your data into a platform that is useful for all of the stakeholders in your school system, congratulations! We recognize that there are many school systems who are leveraging traditional data warehouses to move the needle in their school systems.

Has your school system mastered the art of K12 data management? We want to hear from you!

Obligatory Otus Commercial

Otus is a single platform that is a hybrid of three types of typically disconnected systems: learning and classroom management system, assessment management, and data warehousing.

By providing many different tools in one system that is pre-integrated, data seamlessly flows into our analytics tools so that educators are able to see academic, social-emotional, state and district assessments, and more data in one place without having to worry about several integrations.


AI in K-12 Education

Can AI help K-12 educators complete rote tasks associated with teaching?

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already being used to solve significant problems in many industries, AI is relatively untapped in K-12 education.

Otus is on a mission to increase student outcomes by leveraging a wide variety of data points to help educators make more meaningful and personalized connections and learning experiences for students.

What AI should never do in K-12 education

Otus strongly believes that the power of human teachers and leaders can never be replaced. The role of technology in education should mirror the role of technology in every other sector, it should increase efficiency.

AI should never replace teachers. AI should never replace sound decision making. AI should never decide what a teacher teaches or what a student learns. 

At best, AI should make recommendations, assist teachers in completing rote tasks, and help identify patterns and context to data and present it to professional educators who will determine the next steps.

AI is already in our lives

There are many other examples of how AI provides efficiencies in other industries; from being able to predict when train engines fail so that those trains can be fixed before they break down on train tracks (and disrupt many people), to helping doctors diagnose cancer in its earliest stages, AI can be transformational.

Otus uses an AI-powered tool to support our clients. When a user uses our chat tool to ask a question about how to use Otus, this tool uses AI to recommend responses to our client service specialist based on responses that our client services team has previously written to similar questions.

If a user submits a question that has never been asked before, a client services specialist will write a response. By helping our client service specialists spend their time assisting users who have unique or uncommon questions, they are more efficient. In the end, all of our users benefit because they are receiving responses very quickly.

The building blocks of responsible AI in K-12

There are dozens of tasks that teachers need to complete each day, all of which deal with student academic progress, non-cognitive attributes and traits, and social-emotional well-being. Without Otus, each of these tasks below (and more) are completed by hand or through the use of a single-solution technology (Table A). When the data from each of these tasks is disconnected and fragmented, it is virtually impossible to have a holistic and accurate picture of the student, classroom, school, and district performance.

Table A: Common Daily Tasks for Educators

Student and family communication Tracking work habits Designing relevant lessons
Attendance Documenting social-emotional behaviors Creating reteaching and intervention resources
Grading homework assignment Analyzing high-stakes assessments Curating web-based content
Documenting family contact Identifying strengths, interests, and passions Reviewing IEPs and other important student documents

An AI-driven assistant for every educator

The more Otus is used, the more information about student performance exists on the platform. Through the use of data science, we can help educators identify patterns, develop learning resources, and eliminate redundant tasks so that they don’t have to spend hours analyzing data looking for meaning.

Turn data into meaningful information for educators

K-12 schools are data rich and information poor. Otus can take all of the data that is generated in every classroom, every day, and synthesize the information so that it is meaningful to teachers, students, families, and educational leaders. Most importantly, the data is owned and controlled at the district level.

Ultimately, and in time, we will be able to leverage external data sources so that Otus can recommend early interventions for at-risk students, strategies to keep students appropriately challenged, and, most importantly, empower teachers to spend less time looking at data, and more time building relationships with students.


Standards-Based Grading and Reporting Resources

Below is a collection of all of the standards-based grading and resources we have created over the years. All of these resources may be copied and distributed as needed.

  1. What is Standards-Based Grading?
  2. Our teachers don't like standards-based grading. Now, what?
  3. Have report cards driven a wedge between parents and standards-based grading?
  4. 3 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Standards-Based Gradebook
  5. 5 Ways Technology Complicates Standards-Based Grading
  6. Our parents don't like standards-based grading. Now, what?

Are you looking for evidence, thought leaders, research, books, resources, and more to convince your colleagues and community about making the shift to standards-based learning? Check out, The Ultimate Guide to Standards-Based Learning: 2019 Edition.

Join our Facebook group! The purpose of this group is to connect educators who share a focus on the ongoing paradigm shift in instructional, assessment, grading and reporting practices. Join us to collaborate with prominent educators and walk away with strategies to support your teaching and learning initiatives. bit.ly/ModernMeasuresCommunity

Follow us on Twitter! We share resources and spark conversations about healthy instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Ask your questions using the hashtag #ModernMeasures or follow @Modern_Measures.