Frequently Asked Questions

In May 2016, CPS announced that our district will be moving to a new Student Information System called Aspen in the 2018-2019 school year. We listened to your questions regarding big picture and implementation and are excited to provide answers below! We will continue to rollout answers to your frequently asked questions throughout the year. Please submit any additional questions here. To access ‘Big Picture’ & Implementation questions in more of an interactive format, check out our webinar.

Questions? Please fill out this form to send your questions to the Aspen Project Team. We will provide answers to your most frequently asked questions throughout the transition process.

Big Picture & Implementation Questions:

We started evaluating new systems due to several of our core IMPACT systems being retired by their vendors. One of the key reasons we chose Aspen was for its ability to centrally host and manage student data. Here are just a few of the reasons why Aspen is the best choice for CPS schools and families:

  • Intuitive user interface
  • Quick and timely access to data
  • Robust reporting features
  • Mobile-friendly modules

We approached the process with the goal of finding a unified SIS based on user feedback:

  • Developed an RFP with input from 114 school-based, network and Central Office staff members
  • Reviewed seven proposals with a nine-person selection committee comprised of school-based and Central Office staff
  • Had overwhelming agreement that Follett’s Aspen was the right choice for CPS

Our system users are key to the success of this project, and we are regularly meeting with focus groups and a project steering committee to get their critical feedback.

  • We have 16 focus groups in place for all functional areas of the system. Members include educators, administrators and district representatives. The core users of each area are reviewing the system and making process and design recommendations.
  • A collaborative group of school-based staff, network chiefs and senior leaders throughout the District meet monthly to ensure the project stays focused on the mission and vision.

We are creating a comprehensive training plan to ensure our users are familiar with the system before it goes live. Here are two strategies that we will use to implement our training program.

  • We will work with principals to identify school-based change champions at each school to help facilitate the transition to Aspen SIS. These leaders will be heavily trained in the system and will serve as a valuable and easily accessible resource to staff.
  • We will utilize a sandbox period to provide school-based staff with an opportunity to “play” in the system before it goes live. During this time, many training opportunities and resources will be available to help users navigate the various features.

Aspen will replace Gradebook, SIM, SIM Evening School, SIM Summer School, Parent/Student Portals, Verify, and CIM.

SSM will not be replaced, and it will continue as a separate application. Data will flow between Aspen and SSM. SSM activities include but are not limited to Special Education Referrals, Evaluations, IEPs, 504 Plans and Service Capture.

We will transition to the new system over spring break of the 2018-2019 SY. All data from IMPACT will be converted into Aspen over break, and staff will use the new system when they return on April 22nd, 2019.

We need to give schools and teachers ample time to train in Aspen, and the three month gap of summer doesn’t allow us to provide the training required to implement a new system at the beginning of the school year. Scheduling and registration and enrollment are complex and time intensive tasks, and we want schools to perform them for the first time once they are experienced with the system.

No, all schools will transition to Aspen at the same time. With student mobility at a high rate, students who transfer from an Aspen school to an IMPACT school would have different data in different systems, and that poses data integrity issues for the District. Since we recognize the importance of a pilot, we will be asking a set of diverse schools to participate in focused testing activities in Aspen.

The Sandbox is our users’ opportunity to see the system and ‘play’ in it before switching over to Aspen. Anyone who currently has access to our IMPACT suite will have access to the sandbox towards the beginning of the 2018-2019 SY. The Sandbox will contain real CPS data (e.g., data for your own students), but the IMPACT suite will still be the official system of record. The sandbox will give users the ability to test drive core functionality in the new system, such as taking attendance, creating assignments, and entering grades using their current class rosters.

Yes! Currently, the IMPACT suite is four different products with four different contracts and three different vendors. Moving to just one system with one contract will save the district a significant amount of money over the full-term of the contract. This software project includes hosting, and there is no multi-million dollar software capital purchase.

Like IMPACT, Aspen will be accessible from home via our remote access solution.

If a school wishes to continue using Student Logger, it would be a separate purchase. Aspen does have the ability to select a student and quickly start an email chain with all of their teachers. Aspen also allows teachers and staff to record notes about a student using the Student Journal function.

ITS has enjoyed taking every opportunity to demo the product to administrators, teachers, and support staff. We held three sessions at the combined Tech Talk/Googlepalooza event where educators expressed enthusiastic approval of the robust grading and report functionality, along with the mobile-friendly interface. At Tech Talk, we had an educator stand up and famously say that seeing Aspen for the first time felt like an early Christmas present!

In addition to Tech Talk, we’ve had numerous focus groups and conference calls with individuals from across the CPS educator spectrum, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Users’ favorite benefit of this transition is real time data and the comprehensive nature of the system. Changes to a student’s record in one part of the system (such as attendance or discipline) is immediately manifested in other parts of the application, like Gradebook.. Teachers also appreciate that Aspen gives them the option to copy all of their assignments from a previous year into the new school year’s gradebook. This product was definitely designed with educators in mind, and it shows.


Here’s a demo of the Aspen system.

Do you have questions that aren’t answered in this document? Please ask your questions here.


Change Champion Questions:

Clerk functionality will be covered in the Administrative Change Champion track. To nominate a clerk as a Change Champion, principals should use the Change Champion Assignment Tool to designate their role as Admin. Complete instructions on how to select Change Champions in ODA can be found here

Change Champions will attend a two-day training session during the summer (July-August). Change Champions will then work with principals to implement a training plan for their school. Principals and APs may attend the hands-on training sessions offered at their school, which will most likely start in October. Principals who are interested in training their staff may nominate themselves or their APs as Change Champions, however, neither principals nor APs qualify to receive stipends. Additionally, the Aspen team has requested to offer hands-on Aspen training sessions at this summer's Principal Institute, which has not yet been confirmed. 

It is an individual stipend -– each Change Champion will receive $1500. 

Principals will nominate a small group of individuals in ODA to be the schools' change champions. The ideal change champion would be good with technology, focused on solutions, energized by learning, and have strong rapport with school staff. Change champions will receive extensive in-person training on Aspen. In turn, they will be responsible for training staff members on navigating the new system during the sandbox period. Change champions will receive a toolkit of resources from Central Office to lead ongoing engagement at their school. The nomination phase is now open! Principals, go into ODA and nominate your Change Champions.

Change champions will be tasked with training staff at each school and will have extensive support from Central Office. We will also host and record webinars, as well as provide an extensive training site.

Starting in May, those who have been nominated as change champions will be able to pick their training dates and training location in SCHED. There are 7 training sites throughout the city: Taft HS, Amundsen HS, Phoenix Military Academy, Garfield Park Offices, Colman Offices, Brooks HS, and the SCC Lab.  Training spans from the last week in July to the third week in August. Participants will pick a two-day window in that period.

User Interface and Functionality Questions:

Aspen has its own Parent and Student Portal, which is more robust than our current product. Families will be able to access attendance, assignments, grades, conduct, fees, and health information.

Aspen provides Google Docs integration, which gives teachers the ability to create virtual assignments and collect student submissions online. Aspen also allows users to pull files and links from Google Drive into the teacher planner, group resources, and teacher pages to display on the portals. Google and Follett are currently working on the capabilities of syncing with Google Classroom. While this is on the roadmap for Follett, it will not be available upon initial launch.

Aspen gives teachers much greater flexibility in terms of how they view and enter student data. Teachers have the ability to add columns of data to their gradebook (such as a column for missing assignments) as well as add comments at the individual assignment level.

Yes. When grades are entered, teachers are able to make grades visible to parents and students or keep them hidden. Teachers may also specify a date/time to release grades.

Aspen has built-in unit planning and lesson planning capability, however, in order for this functionality to work, unit plans for each course would have to be created and imported at the district level, then subsequently applied to individual courses in the system. CPS’ Teaching and Learning Department will be heading a separate project to develop unit plans. Once these unit plans are complete, they will be uploaded to Aspen, which will serve as a repository for schools.

Aspen provides a module for entering and viewing student health information – very similar to SIM – however, added functionality is included, such as the ability to view medical ‘alerts’ next to the student’s name anywhere the student is listed in the system.

Yes. The Kindergarten Report Card entries and template will remain consistent.

In Aspen, much of an educator’s daily tasks will be available for easy and full access and use on tablets and smart phones, e.g., attendance, grades, progress report generation and other record-keeping functions.

Aspen’s reporting functionality is incredibly robust. It is easy to query data from the system and generate a report to PDF or Excel (.csv). Users will also be able to create field sets, pulling in data from essentially any table in the system to create their own ‘views’ with customized columns. Additionally, almost every view screen in the system has an option to export the data to Excel. Aspen will also include separate report servers that will enable a users to run large reports without impacting system performance.

The ability to provide historical data is a big win on the Aspen side. Currently in IMPACT, our systems are archived, then erased in year-end-processing. This means our current product houses only current year data. Aspen will retain previous year data, including grades, attendance and standardized test scores from prior years.

When viewing a student roster (whether in a teacher’s gradebook or at the school level), a student’s preferred name will be displayed along with their preferred gender in parentheses. A student’s legal name will only appear on official reports (Transcripts and Report Cards).

Similar to IMPACT, Aspen and Dashboard will be fully integrated. Dashboard will not change, it will just be sourced from a different location - Aspen!

In Aspen, MTSS will include the same functionality as our current logging tool. Providers will be able to view student tiers, create interventions, and enter progress notes. Additionally, the MTSS Committee may create an MTSS plan that provides a more holistic view of the student by identifying the root cause and attaching existing interventions to the plan. Creating an MTSS plan is optional and will only be executed at the school’s discretion. Providers will still be able to create interventions without a plan in place.

The attendance-taking process in Aspen will be very similar to the current practice. An additional benefit is that users will be able to quickly view cumulative attendance totals (tardies, absences) by code at the top of each student record. Schools will also be able to view past attendance records from previous schools for currently enrolled students.

In order to accurately record and report SBG data, a SBG system must be continuously in place for a full school year. Since CPS will be transitioning to Aspen mid-school year and importing current gradebook data, SBG functionality will be turned off for the initial roll-out. Teacher training for the January 2019 launch will be focused on traditional grading approaches. Keeping this in mind, during our process of selecting a new student information system, educators on the selection committee specifically chose Aspen for its SBG capabilities. In order to utilize SBG functionality in Aspen, Reporting Standards, also referred to as performance indicators or learning objectives, must be created at the district-level and applied to school courses. Reporting Standards are measurable statements of specific knowledge and/or skills that students are expected to learn. Multiple common core standards feed into a single Reporting Standard. ITS cannot fully support SBG in Aspen until a common framework is established District-wide from Teaching and Learning. Included in this framework, would be a mapping of Reporting Standards to individual courses. Currently, a steering committee comprised of teachers and students from various schools across the District has been established to solidify CPS’ approach to SBG. This steering committee has been tasked with creating the SBG requirements that we plan to incorporate into Aspen after launch. While these efforts are well underway, the focus for Aspen’s initial rollout will be the traditional method of grading.

Going forward, Aspen will allow the current school of enrollment to view historical data on a student – including attendance, term grades, behavior, assessment, and MTSS information – even if the student previously attended another CPS school. We plan on loading all of these data points found in IMPACT into Aspen going back to 2007. The goal is to retire our IMPACT applications from not only day-to-day use but as a means of accessing historical information. In the future we plan on conforming with CPS’ Student Record Retention policy.

Aspen is not an assessment platform like CIM, and therefore, does not support bubble sheets and other assessment toolkits. Aspen does offer the option to create online quizzes that students can take virtually. Quiz responses will be uploaded directly to the teacher’s Gradebook, where they are automatically scored. Teachers also have the option to score quizzes individually. Please note that the Teaching and Learning Assessment team is leading a separate effort to find an assessment platform. CIM will remain open for the full 2018-2019 school year to support REACH evaluations.

For legal reasons dictated by CPS’ Law Department, the policy that requires parents to come to the school in person to update their contact information will remain in place.

The Aspen transition team has put together a 20-minute webinar to go over big picture questions about the Aspen roll-out, which addresses the planned training model for schools. A link to the pre-recorded webinar is available here. More information will be available in the coming weeks.


Aspen offers improved functionality that will streamline the process of managing student health records. Documents will no longer need to be scanned and uploaded. Instead, users will enter the actual immunization and sports physical exam information into Aspen, which allows schools to use the data to determine sports eligibility, calculate immunization compliance, etc.. This capability wouldn’t be possible using document scans.


The process will be very similar to what we are doing today, however, Aspen offers the added benefit of providing a centralized credit card processor, which will enable schools to process credit card payments securely. In the future we expect to give parents the ability to pay fees online via the Family Portal.


Do you have questions that aren’t answered in this document? Please ask your questions here.


Page Last Modified on Wednesday, January 09, 2019