L.A. Schools Lacerated for Dysfunctional Computer System

Friday, November 07, 2014

There have been many milestones in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) 18 years of disfunction since the courts ordered the educators to figure out a way to track its special needs students.

On Thursday, independent analysts handed in their scathing assessment of what went wrong with My Integrated Student Information System (MiSiS), which, it turns out isn’t very integrated or much of a system.

A seven-page report (pdf) by the The Viramontes Group, ordered up by district Superintendent John Deasy shortly before he resigned two weeks ago, blamed a range of factors for what happened to the computer system that was going to coordinate “attendance, scheduling, grades, counseling, discipline, health, A-G course completion, and a great deal more.”

When school started this fall, teachers couldn’t take attendance or grade students, kids couldn’t get their schedules, seniors couldn’t get their transcripts to meet college deadlines and tracking students was more than a little problematic. MiSiS has issues, and listed 220 of the systemic problem areas on its website as of Wednesday night. “Master scheduling” leads the way with 52 known problems, followed by enrollment (35), grades (31) and attendance (30). One of the known issues: “All levels are unable to enter grades by class.”

This all happened against the backdrop of a failed rollout for the $1 billion iPad-for-every-student project.

So what happened?

Instead of having a single, strong leader, “several people were involved in directing this project.” The district did not have a good relationship with Microsoft, the software’s developer, resulting in unfixed bugs and missing functionality. “Staffing, training and stakeholder involvement for the implentation was insufficient,” so bottlenecks messed up everyone’s development schedule and forced a system rollout without proper testing.

There were “red conditions” everywhere that should have triggered a stoppage. They didn’t. The system failure caused an avalanche of demand from the district’s already-overwhelmed Help Desk. Efforts to implement the system resulted in the loss of essential data.

It was hard to get happy after that.

The failure of MiSiS is more than just another expensive technology debacle. The courts ordered LAUSD to figure out a way to track its special needs students in 1996. Five years later the district was sued for non-compliance and agreed to make improvements in a 2003 modified consent decree (pdf).

The district was supposed to have a comprehensive student tracking system in place by 2006 so the treatment of special needs students could be compared to the population as a whole. The consent decree set up the Office of the Independent Monitor to keep track of the progress, such as it is.   

MiSiS was supposed to align requirements of the court with the legacy computer system. Instead, the focus was on implementing dictates of the Modified Consent Decree to the detriment of developing “legacy functionality,” the report said. Big chunks of the system couldn’t communicate with each other.

When the system breakdown was evident, the district failed to respond. “The MiSiS project did not ramp up the personnel needed to handle the traffic. The abandoned call rates in most cases exceeded the answer rate.”

The report emphasized the project structure’s weakness in not providing accountability for the actions taken to develop and implement MiSiS, but did not name any names.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

MiSiS System "Not Feasible Unless Modified," Says Analyst for LAUSD (by Michael Janofsky, LA School Report)

New L.A. Student Records System Badly Mishandled, Report Concludes (by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times)

MiSiS Outage Causes LAUSD to Delay Elementary School Report Cards (by Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News)

Crummy L.A. Schools Computer System Now Messing up Transcripts for College (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

L.A. Schools Struggle to Open Year with Sputtering New Computer System (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

My Integrated School Information System Report (The Viramontes Group) (pdf)

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