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Long-awaited LAUSD report calls MiSiS ‘grossly inadequate’

Vanessa Romo | November 19, 2014

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computer-errorThe long awaited Inspector General report on LA Unified’s botched MiSiS program found the development and implementation of the student data management system “grossly inadequate,” lacking sufficient resources, oversight and management.

While the report, requested by board member Tamar Galatzan, took three months to complete, the overall findings by the district’s Inspector General, Ken Bramlett, largely echoed observations made in an analysis by Arnold Viramontes, issued two weeks ago.

Bramlett’s report did, however, exceed the Viramontes’ work by providing many more details of flaws and mistakes, occasionally revealing facts unknown before.

For example, Bramlett said that in July, Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill attempted to postpone the rollout by a year, after he “became sufficiently alarmed by the problems that surfaced from the rollout at the summer schools and Bell High School.”

But by that point, “it was concluded that by then it was too late to switch back to the legacy system for the August school opening,” Bramlett wrote.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement late this afternoon Bramlett’s report “validates concerns over rolling out the student record system . . . and lays bare the work ahead for the District.”

He added, “Though seeing improvement, the problems will take more time to fix, perhaps the rest of the school year. That period is required to create the system that L.A. Unified deserves. Toward that goal, we continue to make steady progress.”

Among the chief problems identified in the IG report are:

  • The MiSiS team failed to conduct sufficient quality assurance tests. Some functions were not tested until June, when Microsoft finally provided the adequate Quality Assurance resources.
  • MiSiS leaders, including Hill and now former Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler failed to advocate for adequate funds to meet the technological needs of the schools.
  • Engineers failed to adequately test whether MiSiS had the capacity to handle a high volume of users simultaneoulsy. “Because the load testing engineer was not provided with information regarding the expected number of users during average and peak usage after go-live, he performed the load testing using an arbitrary number of 1,200 users as the maximum load,” the report said. “Part of the reason this number of users was chosen was because the system became sluggish” with more than 1,200 users.
  • Training was woefully inadequate. The report found that the MiSiS team decided training on the attendance and enrollment components was unnecessary because they were believed to be similar enough to the previous computer system. “This was a miscalculaltion,” Bramlett concluded.
  • Stakeholders involved in assessing the new program were discouraged from comparing the new system to its predecessor, ISIS. One assessor found that “any reference to ISIS, the legacy system, was discouraged by the Project Director.” Whenever such references were made, the participants were asked to “feed the pig,” which meant to put a quarter into a piggy bank as a penalty for mentioning ISIS functions. The report did not say how much money was collected.

While the Inspector General’s report identified multiple points of failure, the lion’s share of the blame fell to Project Director Bria Jones, an outside consultant whose contract was terminated last month, and to Chandler, who resigned days after Jones was dismissed.

The report included no mention of former Superintendent John Deasy or his role in the push to launch the system despite the growing evidence that it was not ready.

That was a missed opportunity, said Galatzan, who expressed disappointment that Bramlett did not interview the former superintendent. Deasy resigned last month after three years as head of the district.

“I believe that the superintendent could have answered or clarified three key questions that continue to confound the board,” Galatzan said in a statement. “Who made the decision to launch MiSiS in Fall 2014, setting up the short timeline for implementation? Who, if anyone, told Project Director Bria Jones to focus her efforts on fulfilling the requirements of the Modified Consent Decree? And why was the board repeatedly lied to about the scope of MiSiS problems and the district’s inability to fix them?”

As the result of a 1993 class action lawsuit against the district, a court ordered LA Unified in what is known as the Modified Consent Decree, to create a district-wide system to track student records. MiSiS grew out of earlier iterations of efforts to satisfy the court.

Among Bramlett’s recommendations for going forward: the district should create a new MiSiS plan and spend lots more to fix it, an endeavor Cortines will embark upon tomorrow, when he goes before the Bond Oversight Committee to request approval of another $53 million to right the system.

Already, Bramlett found, MiSiS has cost the district more than $13.3 to build, excluding another $11 million that has been pumped in since the start of the school year.

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