With the current emphasis on providing important K-12 student data to educators, the challenge still remains as to how best to share this information with parents and students. Many districts employ student information systems (SIS) that include online parent and student access to attendance and grades — and perhaps also class assignments, assessment scores and behavior information. In so doing, these districts are recognizing the role such information can play in growing parents’ participation in their students’ academic success.

But what of parents who are non-English speakers? Or those with limited skills in deciphering the complex information provided about their students from their district’s SIS, as well as from other district information systems? And what about parents whose only Internet access is, at best, through a smartphone? Some school districts have acknowledged these needs by building or purchasing parent portals that provide more than just static student data. These portals give parents a more inclusive and easier look into their students’ school performance, and offer ways for parents to support their students’ academic success. They also are being formatted in multiple languages and for access via operating systems for iOS or Android smartphones to help with the language and technical challenges some parents face.

One such parent portal has been developed and successfully implemented by the Denver Public Schools (DPS). I worked in DPS until 2013 and was involved in the early stages of the district’s portal development and rollout. During a recent conversation with Megan Marquez, the district’s academic portal director, I was brought up-to-date on the status of Denver's Parent Portal.

Begun in 2012 with initial funding from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the DPS Parent Portal helps district parents by providing graphically formatted student data translated into the nine languages most spoken in this diverse, urban district. The DPS Parent Portal is now used by a majority of the district’s parents and is smartphone accessible.

Some key factors that have contributed to Denver’s Parent Portal success include:
•    Strong financial support provided through grants and district bond funding
•    A portal product management and outreach team assembled to support the district’s Parent Portal, as well as its other in-house developed portals: Principal, Teacher and Student
•    Extensive community outreach and parent training offered through schools and city organizations, such as the Denver Housing Authority 
•    Teachers hired to write grade-level and subject-specific curriculum guides for inclusion in the portal, and focus on such topics as: What can I do to help my child prepare for fourth-grade literacy?

And though it has gained a strong foothold among its parent community, the DPS Parent Portal continues to face challenges. Some of these are:
•    The lack of common interoperability standards between the district’s many third-party data systems
•    The growing number of district-purchased data and information systems (assessments, curriculum, etc.) with their own unique portals and log-in requirements.   
•    Addressing the needs of schools that want their own school-branded parent portals with information unique to each school (calendars, schedules, parent communications, etc.)
•    Securing the time from the district’s in-house data programmers for custom portal development
•    Maintaining a high level of student data privacy

The DPS Parent Portal remains a work in progress. In the coming year, the district’s portals are transitioning to a new back-end platform that will require less custom work from the district’s in-house programming staff. Another upcoming portal enhancement will include the district’s graduation requirements and will provide parents with current information on their students’ On Track to Graduate status. Additionally, future portal iterations will focus on providing relevant district departments and staff with the ability to manage their own portal content.