An investigation into the rollout of a new online student records system by the Los Angeles Unified School District found that management of the project was “grossly inadequate.”
The My Integrated Student Information System, or MISIS, was intended to help the district to get out from under a consent decree stemming from a federal lawsuit in the 1990s. The system was supposed to be a one-stop shop for information on every aspect of a student’s career, including attendance, grades and discipline.
But the software was rolled out “before the data integrity issues were resolved, end-to-end testing done ... and interfaces with other systems determined to be functional,” according to a report by the district’s office of the inspector general, released Wednesday. The findings mirrored those in a consultant’s report made public this month.
Glitches in the system caused myriad problems. Some students spent weeks waiting to be assigned to classes, and the district scrambled to fix errors in transcripts in time for college application deadlines. The problems were particularly severe at Jefferson High School, prompting a judge to order state education officials to intervene.
The software debacle, along with an ill-fated attempt to issue every student, teacher and campus administrator an iPad, contributed to the resignations of Supt. John Deasy and the district’s head of technology, Ron Chandler.
The inspector general’s report appeared to assign much of the blame for failures in the system to Bria Jones, a consultant hired by the district as project director for the software initiative. Recently installed Supt. Ramon C. Cortines ended Jones’ $280,000-a-year contract last month. Jones could not be reached for comment.
The auditors wrote that the project director failed to get enough feedback from the school staff who would use the system, and that certain functions were missing from the system because Jones was focused on the pieces that related directly to the consent decree.
The report also said the project team did not put enough focus on making sure that the software would be compatible with older systems and that the data would be clean and usable.
“It was discovered at ‘go live’ that data integrity issues were severe. Incomplete and erroneous data were in the system and bad data caused some MISIS functions not to work effectively,” the auditors wrote.
The report noted that problems with the system surfaced in early testing, but Jones attributed the “negative chatter” about it to “a fear of change” and recommended more staff training.
After more problems surfaced as portions of the system were rolled out in summer school and at Bell High School, Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill called a meeting with staff and others to discuss putting the brakes on the effort.
At that meeting, the report said, “there were strong objections from some stakeholders about moving forward, however, it was concluded that by then it was too late to switch back to the legacy system for the August school opening.”
The report also blamed the district’s information technology department for failure to “allocate adequate resources for program oversight” and for not ensuring that schools had the equipment and software needed to support the system before it was launched.
But it did not point blame at the district’s top administrators.
School board member Tamar Galatzan, who called for the investigation, said in a statement that she was “disappointed” that the inspector general’s staff had not interviewed Deasy for the report. But, she said, “at this point, little would be served by expending the resources to pursue a more extensive investigation.”
She said L.A. Unified should instead focus on carrying out the inspector general’s recommendations, which included developing a new project plan, creating a full-time staff dedicated to the project, and hiring an independent, third-party evaluator to oversee it.
Cortines provides weekly updates to the school board on the project. At Tuesday’s board meeting, he said that it would not be a quick fix and that it could cost much more than expected to solve problems with the system. In a statement issued Wednesday, he said the inspector general report “validates concerns” about the rollout and “lays bare the work ahead for the district.”
Despite “steady progress” on repairing the system, he said, “the problems will take more time to fix, perhaps the rest of the school year.”