Tennessee to Delay PARCC Assessments

I'm with Commissioner Huffman on this decision by the state. Delaying the PARCC assessment and putting the state assessment out to bid can only hurt our students in the long run. It seems that the general response I hear from a lot of school districts is drowning out what should be heard. Our kids can handle a push to comprehend more, to work harder and to be held to a higher standard.

So can we.

PARCC requires technology upgrades for most traditional schools as the test is administered digitally. This means implementing wireless and relatively modern technology that can accomodate many students testing at the same time. I have a huge concern when I'm in a training and I hear grumbling from administrators because of the amount of work that will have to go into accomodating the PARCC assessments. I go into a rage when those grumbles become vocal opposition to the assessments because "kids can't comprehend how to use technology and it's unfair to expect them to do so in order to take a test". This kind of thinking is absurd. The modern employment landscape requires basic comprehension of a mouse, keyboard or touch interface in order to attain a job. What I hear is the adults not wanting to put in the hard work required to prepare for the PARCC assessment.

Common Core and the PARCC assessment is a critical part of what's necessary to compete on a global scale. Having a nationwide standard that asks more of our students and gives baseline results across the country is the best way forward. This decision is truly disheartening.

Deploying PowerTeacher Gradebook on 10.8

Part of what I do involves managing Pearson PowerSchool, our Student Information System (SIS). One of the common annoyances teachers have had in years past with PowerSchool is opening it's gradebook. The gradebook is a Java application that requires logging into PowerTeacher and downloading a JNLP file every time you want to open it up if you're on a Mac (as all of our staff are).

With PowerTeacher Gradebook 2.6 Pearson has created a new Gradebook application that can be installed into the Applications folder and initiate the Gradebook (including future updates to the Java app itself). Unfortunately the app isn't signed and thus cannot be opened on 10.8 when initially dragged to the Applications folder with the default Mac App Store and identified developers setting in Gatekeeper. For teachers that have administrative access to their machine, walkthroughs aleady exist for resolving this issue but for those of us who are administering our deployments through a management suite such as Casper this takes some strategic thinking.

My goal was to avoid setting Gatekeeper to be wide open in order to accomodate this one application. Initially I started to follow the method outlined on Charles Edge's excellent blog Krypted. This method utilizes the scptl command to create a label for the Gradebook and whitelist it. This is how the security assessment policy subsystem of OS X manages rules for application security. Unfortunately this didn't resolve the problem when attempting to open the Gradebook application. According to Charles's post, the scptl framework isn't perfect and feels like it's still just a start to Apple's security framework management with Gatekeeper. This is all I can chalk my outcome of the process to at the moment but let's head onward and upward to the resolution.

I called JAMF support to see what insight they could offer. Let me just say that JAMF support is astounding and they have some brilliant engineers who understand OS X deeply. After reading this Apple Knowledgebase article JAMF support found that the error message we were receiving was related to the OS thinking that the application had been modified by someone other than the developer. Stepping back from the situation for a minute I'm really unsure how this isn't a bigger issue that Pearson has had to address. The application itself was downloaded directly from their teacher portal once logged into our account so the permissions were inherited upon that download but that's neither here nor there. If you're in a similar situation, the fix may be to change the ownership of the application to root:wheel using the change ownership command below.

*sudo chown -R root:wheel /Applications/Gradebook.app*

This worked successfully for me and allowed our teachers to open the application with standard accounts and for me to push it out to our teachers through Casper without a problem.

A Year Ago

Exactly a year ago I was halfway through the most insane summer of my life (thus far but hopefully forever). Courtney and I had been living with my in-laws for a month and a half while our house was being built (FWP, I know). I was working 7 days a week at a minimum of 12 hours a day and driving an hour each way to and from work. I felt like there was no end in sight and we were barely going to be able to open school with any of the necessary technology on time. I was doing so much that I'd never done before thus the work was the learning and the learning was the work. There was an abundance of frustration trying to make things work that I didn't know how to make work and advising vendors on things I had little to no expertise with all while thinking about the next ten things that I needed to get to. And yet I perservered and somehow was able to only use a minimal amount of shoestring and duct tape to get it all done.

Looking at where I'm at a year later is sobering. It's mid-June and I'm working normal hours, enjoying time with others socially and managing even more than last year with confidence. There's the three new buildings to prepare with infrastructure (one of which is a mere 131,000 sq ft), the count of over 2,000 machines to prepare, the 130% growth in scholar enrollment and almost 200 staff to support; yet I feel confident in our team. This summer is miles ahead of where we were last year. It really is amazing how much one solid additional person can bring to the amount of work that can be accomplished on a team.

The summer of 2012 will forever have a lasting impression on me as the summer that showed me what grit looks like.