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LAUSD iPad, MiSiS programs poorly planned, federal report says

Federal education officials have weighed in with a critical review of LAUSD's iPad and student data system projects.
Federal education officials have weighed in with a critical review of LAUSD's iPad and student data system projects.

The U.S. Department of Education has issued a damning report on the Los Angeles Unified School District's management of its key technology initiatives, pointing out that school officials still cannot say if their $1.3 billion iPad program is improving learning.

Richard Cullata, director of the department's Office of Educational Technology, recommended in the report that the district use "student academic performance, attendance, amount of discipline problems, parental engagement, teacher time, access to expertise" to gauge effectiveness of the tablet devices.

The district pays about $500,000 annually to the American Institutes of Research to track the program, but the researchers have evaluated such issues as how many classes are using the tablets, not its impact on learning. 

LAUSD officials also lack metrics for evaluating MiSiS, which rolled out to campuses even though it was unable to accurately schedule students, track attendance and record grades. Last fall, thousands of students packed into auditoriums and cafeterias around the district waiting for their classes to be scheduled as software developers scrambled to fix the system's issues.

Federal reviewers spent just two days on the report, identifying issues already highlighted by an outside monitor hired by the district, a committee headed by school board member Monica Ratliff, local media including KPCC, and school board testimony.

"[Federal overseers] generated a report that recycled all the other reports," said Scott Folsom, a district bond oversight committee member who voted to fund both technology projects. Folsom was first to publish the report on his blog, 4LAKids.

The report made no mention of the ongoing FBI investigation and grand jury probe into the purchase of iPads, but it criticized the district for being "heavily dependent on a single commercial product." The review recommended exploring free digital learning content to cut costs.

Shannon Haber, a LAUSD spokeswoman, said the district's technology and instructional staff are already working on resolving issues outlined in the report.

Bernadette Lucas, LAUSD director of the classroom technology program, said the district plans to evaluate student achievement and attendance data over the next few years. Without long-term studies, the district is relying on focus groups and anecdotes from classrooms.

"That matters to us a lot. The kind of feedback is taken in and digested," Lucas told KPCC.