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Consultant's report details problems with LAUSD student record system

Consultant's report details problems with LAUSD student record system
Problems with a new student records system were especially bad at Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles. (Gina Ferazzi)

The rollout of a new student records system for Los Angeles schools was problematic at just about every level, according to a consultant's report released Thursday.

The report is the first independent examination of L.A. Unified's computer data program, called My Integrated Student Information System, or MISIS.

Among the findings:

No one was responsible for pulling together the various aspects of the complex project.

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The help desk wasn't ready. There were not enough people, not enough answers and not sufficient updates as the situation evolved day to day.

L.A. Unified failed to test the new system adequately, a problem exacerbated by its use in summer school; those records were corrupted in the process.

Data in the system proved unreliable, with the potential to be "catastrophic" for students applying to college.

The findings are hardly surprising for district employees and families. This fall, thousands of students had to deal with incomplete or inaccurate schedules. Many lacked courses they needed to graduate or fulfill college requirements.

The situation was especially severe at Jefferson High School, eventually prompting a court to order the state Department of Education to intervene.

Board of Education member Steve Zimmer said the report validates what he'd been hearing from schools, even as senior officials were asserting that everything was fixed or readily fixable.

After initially downplaying the problems, L.A. Unified set about to repair the software, as well as to correct schedules and transcripts ahead of deadlines for college applications.

But problems persist. "Many of our seniors are receiving unofficial transcripts filled with incorrect information," said a teacher at a high school, not Jefferson, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

He said that some students' records in the system don't show that they have passed the exit exam, a graduation requirement. The system also fails to properly list some of their courses and grades. "This has led to many of them receiving incorrect GPAs," he said.

District officials have pledged to help seniors who could be at risk. Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has been in contact with California state and private colleges. Those institutions are working with L.A. Unified to avoid problems with student applications, according to Cortines.

The superintendent added that the district had already made changes recommended by the consultant and would "continue to work to resolve the problems until we have a fully functioning student information system."

In tracing what went wrong, the report concludes that L.A. Unified didn't properly account for the size and complexity of its needs; the software was adapted from a similar program in the smaller Fresno Unified School District.

The entire development process "has been mired with software bugs," the consultants wrote. And they said there was a "deficiency" in available experts and insufficient involvement from people who would be using the system.

At many points, red flags indicated serious issues, "but when it came to the 'Go/No Go' decision," the leadership always said "Go," the consultants noted.

"This indicates a lack of communication or understanding," according to the report, which added: "Holding people accountable ... seems to be a problem."

But the seven-page report itself, by the Texas-based Viramontes Group, avoids assigning blame. In fact, it names no one at all.

School board member Tamar Galatzan defended the lead consultant: "His job isn't to play the blame game," she said in a statement. "It's to get in there right now and fix what we can while we're rolling down the track. The other piece is how we got there."

She noted that the district's inspector general was completing a review — which could be finished next week — that will contain "the detail and nitty-gritty about what happened and who is responsible."

The Viramontes report is dated Oct. 16, one day after Supt. John Deasy agreed to resign. His departure was not linked to a particular event, although some board members were unhappy with his handling of problems with the student records system, among other things.

Viramontes was hired in mid-September under a contract that directed the company to report directly to Deasy. The firm's fee for ongoing work is $175 per hour, not to exceed $73,500 for an initial one- to three-month period.

Deasy also faced scrutiny related to his efforts to provide an iPad to every student, teacher and campus administrator. When he resigned, board members expressed confidence that Deasy would be exonerated from wrongdoing.

The iPad project is under review by the inspector general as well, and purchases under that contract have been suspended.

The district's head of technology, Ron Chandler, resigned Oct. 31.

Until Thursday, L.A. Unified had refused to release the report.

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