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MiSiS system ‘not feasible unless modified,’ says analyst for LAUSD

Michael Janofsky | November 6, 2014

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In a scathing critique of LA Unified’s implementation of its new student data tracking system, a team of independent analysts found problems from the beginning, including an overall “lack of communication or understanding of application stability” critical to the project’s success.

In short, Arnold Viramontes, an outside expert hired by former superintendent John Deasy, found that in rolling out the new MiSiS system, “red conditions” arose early and should have signified “No Go.” But they were ignored by the system’s management team, leading to months of frustration, anger and disruption at schools across the district.

In its seven-page Oversight Report, shared with the district board members this morning, Viramontes found: “There are many reasons why the current project plan is not feasible unless it is modified to reflect the dynamics of the implementation.”

Already, that effort has begun. This week, Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced several high-level changes to reorganize the team responsible for fixing MiSiS, which stands for My Integrated Student Information System. The reshuffling included the departure of the head of the Information Technology Division, Ron Chandler, and an outside consultant, Bria Jones.

In a brief statement late this afternoon, Cortines said, “I am well aware of some of the impediments MiSiS has created and how they have affected our students, teachers and support staff. I want you to know that we have already made some changes to address the issues in this first  report, and will continue to work to resolve the problems until we have a fully functioning student information system to serve the students, parents and employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District.”

Board member Tamar Galatzan said the report highlighted the gap between what should have been done and what was actually accomplished as MiSiS was launched.

The report, she said, “gives us a high-level overview of the time and money it will take to get MiSiS fixed. His job isn’t to play the blame game. It’s to get in there right now and fix what we can while we’re rolling down the track.”

Apart from kind words for the “hard work and tireless hours” put in by employees trying to fix the problems as they came, the critique had little good to say about the MiSiS project, which had been expected to be fully operational by next month.

In the clearest indication of how a good idea went bad, Viramontes and his colleagues said of the district’s daily status meeting, “The status room has been turned into a situation/war room.”

Among the most critical assessments were these:

  • Too many people were responsible for project management and communication, creating “confusion and multiple decision points.”
  • The level of staffing, training and stakeholder involvement for the implementation was insufficient, “causing bottlenecks and late deliveries.”
  • The district’s partnership with Microsoft, which developed the software, was inadequate, leaving the development of MiSiS “mired with software bugs and missed functionality.”
  • The project lacked “sufficient quality assurance resources” to test facets of the program as they were being developed.That decision denied officials the opportunity to address problems as they would have arose in testing, rather than as they presented themselves in actual use.

All these issues eventually showed up through user dissatisfaction and disruptions at school sites, leaving the district’s Help Desk overloaded with callers. Again, the report found, the district was not prepared.

“The MiSiS project did not ramp up the personnel needed to handle the traffic,” the report said. “The abandoned call rates in most cases exceeded the answer rate. The average length of calls is excessive causing queues, which also leads to abandoned calls.”

Here, the report targets those on the Help Desk and their superiors, charging that they did not always report back to the person seeking help.

Finally, the report describes “data integrity” as the system’s “single most important issue, the one that gets students in the right class at the right time.” 

Yet, as the analysts found, “there was no evidence suggesting a detailed plan for data integrity,” leading to “several occurrences of duplicate students, missing students, scheduling inconsistencies and coding irregularities.”

This area, they added, “is in need of immediate attention”

Just hours after the report was presented to the board, the MiSiS system users were warned to stay off the system for 30 minutes while it was “refreshed,” according to an official working on the system. It was at least the second time this week that MiSiS was unavailable.

* Adds comments from Superintendent Ramon Cortines and board member Tamar Galatzan comment.

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