4 Tips for Finding the Best SIS for Your School District
Each year, millions of students enter and exit K-12—and it’s up to your school district to make sure their student data stays organized year-over-year from kindergarten through high school graduation.
Between their grades, teachers, assigned homeroom, academic history, transcripts, attendance records, medical records, financial information, and more, there is a dizzying amount of information that makes up just one student profile, and keeping it all organized is no easy feat.
Student Information Systems (SIS) help centralize that student data in one place. In the past, student records would be spread across multiple platforms, systems, and databases. This was a huge obstacle for K-12 staff who needed to quickly locate or reference student information.
An SIS eliminates the need for back-and-forth emails, sticky note reminders, and trips to the school registrar to ask a quick question. Instead, any information related to a student in your district can be found on a single platform—and it’s all made possible through your SIS.
Here are some tips to help you find the best student information system for your district.
Why Use a K-12 Student Information System?
In short, student information systems streamline administrative tasks for K-12 teachers, staff, parents, and students alike. Here are a few things that an SIS can help your K-12 district with.
Manage student enrollment
The entire student enrollment process can be tracked in an SIS.
Using data from previous years, an SIS can keep track of a student’s grade level and change their grade level status accordingly. Or, in the case of a transfer or new student, administrators can automate messages to parents asking for essential enrollment information such as birth certificate, proof of residence, proof of immunization, and more.
Auto-reply features can also be used to respond to incoming student or parent queries with a selection of standard responses to save administrative time. With step-by-step enrollment processes available within an SIS, both parents and students can easily navigate the overwhelming process of student enrollment.
Maintain accurate student financial records
Accurate financial record-keeping is necessary for schools to maintain a strict budget year-over-year. Using the features within an SIS, K-12 admins can access a general ledger, billing for students, view all payable and receivable details, and accounting details.
Additionally, using the communication features built into an SIS, school admins can automate messages that are sent to students regarding any applied fees to their student accounts. In the case of outstanding fees, parents and students can also pay any invoices applied to their accounts through the SIS.
With open API integrations, K-12 IT teams can also use the fee tracking capabilities in their SIS to attach school-related fees (such as fines or invoices) to users, assets, and tickets in their school help desk. At Incident IQ, we make this possible through our Fee Tracker App.
Easy exam scheduling
An SIS is also the perfect tool for planning and organizing midterms or student final exams. The system collects all relevant data, including the availability of teachers to supervise exams, records of previous and current exams, room vacancies for testing, teacher gradebooks, and more.
Keep sensitive school and student information secure
Student Information Systems are also a great tool for safeguarding sensitive student records. With cybersecurity threats on the rise for schools, the data encryption and nightly data backups of most SIS systems offer additional layers of security to protect your K-12 students.
When selecting your district’s SIS, be sure to review its security features, so you know you have what you need. For example, Powerschool SIS has a dedicated cybersecurity team, holds an ISO 27001:2013 certification, and undergoes annual SOC 2 compliance audits.
This gives K-12 IT teams additional support and gives parents/guardians peace of mind that their child’s data is in safe hands.
Separate user portals for parents and teachers
Another non-negotiable feature your SIS should have is separate user portals for parents, students, and K-12 staff.
By giving parents/guardians access to their own parent portal, they can find important student information (like report cards or field trip release forms) without being in constant contact with their student’s teachers. This helps teachers keep their school inbox low and allows parents to easily view information on student success and student performance.
Teachers can also use their dedicated user portal to improve parent communication and find student data, without scrambling to find the information they need. With many teachers having to use their planning or lunch periods to address emails from parents and locate student information, an SIS helps return their time and attention towards the classroom.
Integrate with other school systems
Another important functionality your district’s SIS should have is the ability to integrate with other important school systems, such as your School Management System (SMS), Learning Management System (LMS), or school help desk software.
Most SIS systems offer open APIs and integrate with other campus applications and database systems for easy access to student data.
For example, through secure, API-driven SIS integrations, Incident IQ uses the data available within a student information system to help K-12 IT agents quickly resolve support requests that require student data, such as a student’s homeroom, class schedule, or contact information.
4 Tips for Finding the Best SIS
The features listed above should be the bare minimum requirements of your desired SIS. Once you’ve evaluated those features, here are some other steps you can take to ensure your prospective district SIS is worth the investment.
1. Ask other school districts you trust for reviews
Specifically, try asking other IT teams about their experiences with your prospective SIS’s customer support team. If an SIS’s support team has a poor reputation or isn’t all that helpful, you may want to choose an alternative solution.
2. Ensure your SIS can easily create reports on large data sets
This is a major benefit for K-12 IT teams. While SIS systems are used for more than just managing data, being able to create custom reports on data needed for state reporting will make your job (and your life) much easier.
Ask if your prospective SIS supports API URL requests or customized CSV/Reporting that can easily be configured to any file server. The ability to easily configure and control the data you need within an SIS will easily make it worth the investment.
3. Review the technical services your SIS offers
Most SIS systems come with both customer support and implementation for when your district is just getting started, however, the technical services your SIS offers are equally important.
Most K-12 IT teams don’t have the time to work on system improvements such as custom SIS development, process improvements, or converting data from a previous SIS or data management system. Inquiring about the technical services your prospective SIS offers can potentially save your busy IT team time spent on internal administrative tasks.
4. Look for a strong user community
A strong user base is another great sign when reviewing your prospective SIS. While there’s nothing wrong with being an early adopter to a new product or service, being able to ask advice to other SIS users provides your IT team with a quick way to answer product or process-related questions, without having to rely on customer support.
While user forums can commonly be found within Reddit communities or Facebook groups, major SIS platforms will often host a ‘community’ page on their site to facilitate these product-related discussions.
Combining your SIS and school help desk
Integrating the data found within your student information system can help streamline processes in other school-related systems. For example, at Incident IQ, we’ve built API-driven integrations with leading SIS platforms such as Gradelink, Infinite Campus, Powerschool, Skyward, and more to help IT agents quickly resolve SIS-related help requests.