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Three things you need to know about Chicago’s new student portal, coming after spring break

When students and teachers come back from spring break this month, they will see one big change, but it won’t be visible in the classroom or in student notebooks.

On April 22, Chicago schools will launch a new $8 million student information system that will centralize data on everything from attendance to grades to health.

Originally intended to debut in January but delayed until the spring, the system and parent portal bring into one platform various school, network and district-based data that were housed on five different systems.

District leaders have promised that the new system, Aspen, would streamline the work of educators. Aspen, in the works for three years, is tasked with “reducing administrative burden and allowing schools to spend more time preparing students for future success,” schools CEO Janice Jackson wrote in a letter to teachers.

But on message boards and in Facebook groups, parents and teachers have expressed confusion about whether the system will affect student grades, how parents can access information, and whether the rollout would be rocky.

Chalkbeat Chicago put together three things to know about the debut of Aspen.

We also want to hear your thoughts, concerns and questions about the new Aspen system. Fill in our survey below.

It’s been tested on teachers.

About 30 “change champion” volunteers at schools, nominated by principals, are being paid $1,500 to train fellow staff members on Aspen.

So far, about 97 percent of school staff has taken an online training, and educators at about one-fifth of district-run schools have received in-person training at their buildings, the district reported. More than 300 parents previewed the Aspen system at 13 Parent University programs. The district will also offer parents the chance to train on Aspen in May.

Last year, more than half of 1,250 school staff members who trained on the system rated it as outstanding, while one-third rated it as above average, according to a presentation to the school board by the chief information officer of the district. Fewer than 3 percent said it needed improvement.

Chicago will join 236 school districts in the U.S. and Canada using the software, according to its maker, the Follett Corp., which bills itself as the largest provider of education technology in the U.S.

Schools will have to train parents in using the new system to access grade information.

Nearly 1 in 5 CPS students are English learners, and together they speak more than 110 languages. While the district will offer online and in-person training for parents, schools will have to offer training in several languages so non-English-speaking parents can access their children’s report cards and attendance records. Principals were told to try to engage parents in the new system during report-card pick-up.

The district also is offering parent trainings at its 13 Parent University locations.

Aspen is supposed to make educators’ jobs easier by replacing five different data systems.

Aspen will be a single application that will replace the multiple contracts and vendors that handle the district’s information systems, including SIM, the basic student information system that holds transcripts, early childhood, and transportation information; the grading system Gradebook; and the Parent Portal, which is a web tool that parents use to check student grades and attendance.

Under the current systems, users can only access data from the current year. The Aspen system eventually will hold a broader set of historical data.