Schools turn to software to save time, money on paperwork

Teaching is a small part of the time teachers spend working in the classroom.
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Schools across the state are getting hit with a blizzard of paperwork.

Educators blame the new teacher grading system and other state-mandated requirements. We've been hearing complaints from teachers about the nights, weekends and school time they are spending evaluating themselves and their students.

Now, more than 50 school districts are using new software created by teachers, some of them from Indiana, to get some of that time and money back.

On top of teaching, teachers are grading, writing lesson plans, and assessing student's progress, as well as their own.

State-mandated accountability requirements, many educators say, have them somewhere between buried and burned out by paperwork.

"There are days I feel overwhelmed with paperwork," admitted Tri-West Middle School Principal Ryan Nickoli.

The Hendricks County school system is trying reduce the time consuming and costly process of grading each teacher's performance. Administrators sit through numerous classes, observing teachers and students, take notes, review documents submitted by teachers, then write detailed reports. The last one is a report card grading the teacher in one of four categories, ranging from "highly effective to ineffective."

The math of the process is scary.

For every teacher two and a half hours of classroom observations. Under the old system, one and a half hours to write that all up, an hour to calculate the year-end assessment times 26 teachers at the middle school equals 130 hours. That's more than three weeks of full-time work.

"It definitely was a 'thank goodness' moment when I realized we don't have to do that by hand," Nickoli said with a look of relief.

Software created by a handful of teachers, eliminates paper and the rewriting of observation notes. "Standard for Success" accepts documents submitted by teachers, calculates their final grades and puts the report online for teachers to review. Company co-founder Todd Whitlock figures the system can cut the evaluation time in half.

Tri-West is still evaluating its savings. Nickoli says he needs that time for children, parents and teachers.

"If they get more time in the classroom with students, then the outcome there is going to be more achievement and success for our students," he said.

Which is the entire purpose for all the additional work.

Lawmakers and Indiana's Department of Education are hearing the complaints as well and a spokesman for the department says they are listening.

However, much of the current process is spelled out in detail in law. They are looking for better evaluation systems, but there are no policy changes in the works right now.