September 30, 2006

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - Pearson School Systems

Wrong grades sent out

By Lindsay Melvin
September 30, 2006

A Shelby County Schools computer glitch that miscalculated hundreds of interim report cards has staff working overtime and -- for a time -- had college-bound students biting their nails.
PowerSchool, the $800,000 Web-based student information system designed by Apple, was installed systemwide in August. It grabbed attention after nearly 400 inaccurate interim reports were sent home.
At Germantown Middle School, students flunked homeroom. Typically, they're not graded in homeroom, so you can imagine their surprise, said principal Russell Joy.
Across the county, teachers saving data from classroom laptops are facing slow systems that often save grades and attendance incorrectly.
Fortunately, "nothing has been lost," said Supt. Bobby Webb, who guaranteed there are backup copies of everything.
Operated by California-based Pearson School Systems, PowerSchool is intended to help track attendance, grades and about 40 other student categories, along with allowing parents to view their child's progress online.
Pearson president Mary McCaffrey will appear before the school board at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Dealing with the brunt of the problem are the educators, said board member Ron Lollar.
"My concern is the frustration of the teachers," Lollar said.
PowerSchool is supposed to help gather information required by the state under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines.
Shelby County's technology department, as well as engineers from Pearson School Systems, are trying to smooth out problems. Specialists suspect it was a bug in the program and a new version has been installed. According to officials there has been some improvement but PowerSchool is still not up to speed.
If the software is not fixed by report card time next month, teachers will hand-correct any errors and those incorrect grades will not go on record, Webb said.
In some schools, they are days behind on attendance. Data entry clerks and teachers have been wrestling with the slow system, sometimes taking hours to enter just five students.
As teachers use their laptops to input 46,000 students each morning, the system jams.
Educators are left recording information on the school's old system or in attendance books.
According to the superintendent, the district's attendance-based state funding will not be affected by the delay.
The new software had high school seniors frustrated as they tried to get transcripts.
At the beginning of each school year transcripts are updated and printed, but nearly seven weeks into the school year students were not able to obtain them.
Some students seeking early college admission were given rough versions of their transcript. But several school counselors said the documents were an embarrassment. In some situations universities would not accept the rough versions.
The foul up left students like Jessie Andrews of Bartlett on edge: "I'm a senior and I'm looking at colleges and we need that stuff," said Andrews.
Without the transcript she hadn't been able to apply for scholarships, she said.
Christopher McGhee, also a Bartlett senior, was worried as well as he tried to get an ROTC scholarship and early admission to a Navy college program.
As of Thursday, school officials reported transcripts were updated and being printed off the district's old program.
Before PowerSchool was put into effect, it got a three-year test run at the elementary, middle and high school level. It worked great and was the top choice when compared to Chancery Software, which is now, but not at the time, owned by Pearson.

Webb says he plans to make some temporary hires to handle the heavy volume. Webb said he expects Pearson to pay any additional costs.