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Investigation finds LAUSD student tracking system 'grossly inadequate'

The LAUSD inspector general's report on the trouble-prone student data system called MiSiS calls for an outside party to monitor the work of district software developers.
The LAUSD inspector general's report on the trouble-prone student data system called MiSiS calls for an outside party to monitor the work of district software developers.

Most of the Los Angeles Unified campuses surveyed are struggling to print report cards, submit accurate college transcripts and even determine how many students attend the school, says a new report released Wednesday by the district inspector general.

The scathing review called the district's student data software development and its rollout "grossly inadequate" and recommended that administrators bring in an outside party to double-check the developers' work, as is the industry's standard practice.

Despite the system's significant problems, Inspector General Ken Bramlett said he's confident the district is capable of reviving its software called MiSiS, or My Integrated Student Information System.

"The district is doing everything they can to correct it and also make sure it doesn't happen again," Bramlett said.

School board member Tamar Galatzan requested the inspector general's investigation after the board was blinded sided by the system's mounting problems that threw many schools into chaos at the start of the academic year.

Even as thousands of high school students wasted days without class schedules, district staff told the board that the software errors only affected 1 percent of students. 

But Galatzan said the inspector general's probe stopped short: the report didn't mention former Superintendent John Deasy who headed the district at the time of the rollout nor did it pinpoint who made the call to release the system to the schools before it was ready.

"It would have brought a little more clarity to these unanswered questions, especially as to why the board was not told the truth," Galatzan said.

The report recommends an entirely new project plan for running MiSiS under stronger management. It also called for more resources to resolve ongoing programming and data issues and additional system equipment, training and support.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines will be asking the school board to approve over $53 million to fix the data system. Repairs may take a year to complete, he estimated.

According to the report, the district already spent about $13.3 million on MiSiS as of October.

Some district staff worried the original budget of $30 million to launch a new in-house software was too low, according to the investigation.

The report criticized developers who turned to department heads for input on MiSiS rather than to teachers, counselors and principals who continue to struggle with the faulty system to do their work.

Multiple red flags were raised before the software went live last summer, but the project, director Bria Jones, said there "was not enough time" to turn back to the old system, the report said.

Many of the problems were presumably unknown to the developers because the system's features were inadequately tested or not tested at all.  The program rolled out to schools before the staff could attempt a trial run of the entire system — what's known as end-to-end testing.

The system was only tested with 1,200 users, so when tens of thousands of teachers and counselors logged on, the servers quickly became overloaded, rendering the program unusable.

Even if district staff members could access the program, many weren't sure how to use it.

Five trainers were assigned to instruct principals, counselors and teachers at 1,000 schools on how to download report cards and transcripts, update student records and schedule students.

Many simply returned to paper and pencil.

"I appreciate the devoted efforts of those repairing the system; the patience of those using the software in schools; and the understanding of students and parents," said Superintendent Cortines in a statement after the report's release.