Updated state computer system frustrates districts during student testing period

Updated state computer system frustrates districts during student testing period


Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

A major update last month to the state’s student data collection system, CALPADS, has caused data outages and errors in many districts at one of the busiest times of the year. State leaders representing the districts told the state that some of the districts considered the system “unusable.”

The California Department of Education has acknowledged the frustration that the deployment has created and says it is working to resolve the issues. But, expressing a common complaint, an administrator in a Southern California district said the severity of the mistakes goes beyond the time-consuming fixes and inconveniences. Rick Roberts, executive director of educational technology services for the Grossmont Union High School District, said the problems are affecting the ability to administer Smarter Balanced tests to some students and are undermining confidence that CALPADS will process the information. accurately over the next few months.

“The end of the year (agenda) is at stake,” he said. “Surely it looks like a year where the data is suspicious, at best.”

CALPADS, California’s longitudinal student performance data system, has been the data battlehorse since 2009. It contains much of the student information the state collects, including attendance, courses taken , test results and accountability data required by the federal and state governments. But it has been working to increase the data load and the state has been planning a change that promises to substantially improve system performance and reduce the time it takes to publish data uploaded to the system.

It is unclear why the department chose in mid-April, during Smarter Balanced testing, a maximum period to use CALPADS, for conversion. A spokesman for the department initially said the U.S. Department of Education had been pressuring the state to do the job, but later the state department clarified that it was not.

In an April 22 letter to the district, the county office of education and charter schools, Jerry Winkler, director of the department’s Education Data Management Division, wrote that the department “recognized the risk of implement such significant system changes during the middle of the evaluation season. ” but that it was crucial to have the update underway before the year-end data submission period.

“The CDE also apologizes for the larger number of defects currently desired in the system. Some of these defects are related to the complexity of migrating data from many years to a new data structure,” he wrote.

Districts began filing complaints after CALPADS was put back into service on April 18, two weeks after it was withdrawn for the upgrade, one more week than expected. After continuing to receive reports from the districts, Vernon Billy, executive director of the California School Board Association, and Edgar Zazueta, executive director of the California School Board Association, wrote to the superintendent on May 9. state public education Tony Thurmond, who oversees the department. expressing his “deep concern.”

“Our members report that they have experienced significant challenges with CALPADS in recent weeks, to the point that some feel that the system is currently unusable,” they wrote.

Among the topics they cited:

  • Districts were unable to keep up with changes and updates to individualized education programs for special education students that dictate adaptations for Smarter Balanced testing. This could affect the ability of special education students to receive the correct accommodations when taking the tests.
  • Students moving to schools or districts received multiple student ID numbers, delayed testing, or in some cases required students to repeat Smarter Balanced testing.
  • Districts reported numerous errors loading data into the revised system, which required lengthy manual corrections.

“These challenges have reached a critical mass far beyond the capabilities of IT departments and are affecting operational functions at the district and school levels,” Billy and Zazueta wrote. Small districts without staff and experience to address the issues were the hardest hit, they said.

Two days after the letter was sent, senior department officials met with organizations to discuss the issues and held another meeting this week detailing how they were addressing the issues.

Roberts and David Feliciano, superintendent of La Mesa-Spring Valley schools, said school districts are concerned that data issues with student ID numbers and special education students could jeopardize their ability to meet the 95% participation rate required in Smarter Balanced testing, invoking federal sanctions. They said only a handful or a few dozen students who miss tests or refuse to take charge could push a district below the threshold.

But U.S. Department of Education exemptions are unlikely, the department told administrators at this week’s meeting.

“We continue to engage in dialogue with the CDE and hope that districts can avoid sanctions out of their control,” said Troy Flint, information director of the school board association.

Flint and Zazueta said this week that they were grateful that the department had responded quickly to their letter and that they were addressing the issues urgently. But they are still hearing complaints every day from the districts.

“We understand that technology upgrades can take time and create challenges, but the problems continue,” Flint said.

Roberts and Feliciano are pessimistic.

The department “is sorry for us, but they are not close enough to the students to understand what the impact really is,” Roberts said. “They tell us things are being fixed, but they’re not really being fixed.”

Feliciano, who was a technology administrator before becoming superintendent, found it “discouraging” for the department not to return to the existing system after encountering major deployment issues.

The department’s approach was “cavalier, setting aside concerns and problems,” he said.

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