Students take the first of three SEL screeners for the 2020-2021 school year


PANORAMA website

FCPS’s contract with Panorama Education details a rate of about five hundred thousand dollars per year. The contract was signed to help combat the damaging effects the pandemic had on student mental health, and has been met with mixed feedback. “As a counselor, any data I have [will] help me. I just don’t know if [the screener] is only administered once or twice a year [if it would help].” Jefferson counselor Sean Burke said.

Eli Tillemann, Staff Writer

Jefferson students completed the first Social Emotional Learning (SEL) screener on Oct. 18, part of a two million dollar testing deal between FCPS and Panorama Education. 

Panorama Education specializes in gathering student data and providing educators with statistics and courses of action based on that data. They use student attendance, grades, and SEL screeners — such as the one taken on Oct. 18 — to advise teachers and administrators. The SEL screener taken countywide was another addition to FCPS’s SEL program, which focuses on student mental health. It will be the first of three tests taken in the 2020-2021 school year, and has been met with a wide array of student opinions, from support to skepticism. 

“[I thought the test was] good because they were checking in with students,” freshman Manya Grover said. 

“We took a lot of surveys last year, and it doesn’t feel like they actually listened to our feedback.” sophomore Deborah Zhou said. 

After a freshman year full of nonstop homework, Zhou and many of her friends asked for a lighter workload. While the county responded to these student requests with a policy dictating a maximum of half an hour of homework per class, Zhou says that few of her teachers follow it and that her workload has not changed. Staff have suggested solutions to deal with the lack of change and help students such as Zhou.

“We need places for kids to come, chat, and share concerns with [administrators]. We need more [counselors], and I know it’s hard to hire people these days, but more counselors [means] better [schools],” Jefferson counselor Sean Burke said. 

When working on a countywide solution, FCPS decided to take a different approach to helping students with mental health. FCPS has signed a two million dollar contract with Panorama Education which will last for the next five years. Over those years, Panorama will collect data from any K-12 students who have not opted out of the program through a variety of SEL screeners and diagnostics. The data then goes towards building individual student information profiles that detail where students may be struggling. The data is then accessible to FCPS teachers, FCPS administrators, and Panorama Education. These individuals are able to use the information for targeted instruction or the staging of interventions by various staff members. tjTODAY reached out to the FCPS Office of Procurement in an attempt to receive clarification on what this would entail but the Office of Procurement didn’t respond to a request for a comment.

“As a counselor, any data I have [will] help me. If I can figure out that a kid is really shy and not doing well, that’s great. I just don’t know if [the screener] is only administered once or twice a year [if it would help]. Yes, it would help on those brief instances, but I would [prefer] a program that can give me something more consistent and reliable. I’d like to know every week how people are doing,” Burke said. 

Despite the benefits the program might lend to FCPS counselors, there have been several objections raised by parents. The wide range of information that will be available to Panorama Education has sparked privacy concerns.

“I don’t like [outside] organizations gathering data on my children. I don’t think that has a place in schools,” a parent of a Marshall student who preferred to remain anonymous said. (tjTODAY is protecting the anonymity of the source to avoid potential HATCH act violations.)

To address concerns about the new Panorama testing deal, FCPS has set up a page explaining the benefits of their SEL program on their website. The FCPS web page answers some frequently asked questions surrounding the test, but community readers must navigate through six different web pages to find the screener information. Parents who were unable to find the site have stated a lack of information about the program as a major worry.

“I feel like there are a lot of intrusive surveys that are occurring which trigger sets of actions that aren’t actually helpful. If I am to feel comfortable with [information being gathered on my son, then I need] to understand what [is being done with the data] and who it’s beneficial for,” Emily Frye, the mother of an FCPS high schooler, said.

Burke suggested a stronger communication network  with students as a way to deal with concerns about the program.

“I think we need consistent feedback, and we need more people in the buildings who can chat [and] make connections with students, and make this a more comfortable [learning environment]. I just think we need more people to connect with the kids,” Burke said.