California’s pupil-achievement program continues

A controversial state program to track pupil performance is going to continue, but without adequate oversight because of the loss of federal money, critics say.

It’s a lot like remodeling a kitchen without the home owner around, said the California Department of Education’s Keric Ashley about the on-going saga surrounding the making of California’s first state-wide student database, CalPADS.

“The refrigerator ends up in the living room because that’s the most convenient place for the contractor to put it,” Ashley said.

That’s because nearly $7 million in federal funds allocated for CDE to oversee the on-going production of the notoriously riddled student information system that would track statistics for the state’s 6.3 million k-12 kids was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in this year’s budget.

A $3.5 million pending contract to extend the database to include teacher statistics was also vetoed.

Since its beginning seven years ago, CalPADS has run into a series of set backs and technical complications that have gridlocked hopes of having a viable online resource for k-12 educational statistics in California.

Now, Gov. Schwarzenegger has vetoed $6.8 million in funding for CDE’s oversight of the controversial CalPADS, saying that CDE has failed to deliver a usable database in a reasonable amount of time.

“While the CDE … has struggled to develop a functional state longitudinal data system … other states have allocated far less funding and achieved their databases in much less time,” said Schwarzenegger.

The cuts were made primarily to administrative departments within CDE in charge of assisting local schools with their own student records. The idea is to make it easier for policy makers and educators to monitor academic progress throughout California.

But for IBM, the computer hardware company contracted to build the database, current contracts are already in motion and won’t be affected by this year’s budget, said Ashley.
That’s because about $13.9 million, half of the total CalPADS contract, has already been paid out to IBM and the other half was allocated in last year’s budget, said Ashley. The money for IBM to keep working is protected.

“But it’s very risky to have IBM move forward without people telling them what to do. It’s more expensive to change the system after it’s been built.”

IBM was responsible for CalPADS’ original misgivings last year after releasing what was largely criticized as an unstable program with an archaic interface. About $150 million has been poured into the CalPADS project so far. IBM won another bidding for a $3.5 million contract to build a database of teacher statistics, CalTIDES, on top of CalPADS.  
But even if IBM continues to work on CalPADS without oversight from CDE, it will run into a wall when cashing in on the CalTIDES contract.

Schwarzenegger specifically vetoed the CalTIDES contract from the budget, saying he hopes the federal dollars will be saved for future attempts to build California’s educational database.

“CALTIDES was to be developed within the CALPADS infrastructure. It is my intent that these funds be set aside for future legislation that would appropriate funds for an appropriate entity to complete the project and provide a data system…” read the veto.   

Regardless of the veto, CDE asked IBM to extend its offer for the pending CalTIDES contract offer.  Ashley said CDE’s contract with IBM was pending on the company’s performance during the late fall term.   

But the veto cuts out the money CDE would need to follow through with IBM’s CalTIDES contract regardless of the company’s performance.

CDE has been in charge of overseeing IBM’s work on CalPADS and insists the program is up and running. All that’s left to do now is to wait for all California school districts to finish filling the database with student statistics. Ashley said 90 percent of those districts have finished uploading their data for the term.

Schools and local boards in charge of uploading new enrollment rates, racial demographics, standardized test scores, drop-out rates and other student statistics into the CalPADS system are required to submit data four times annually. New enrollment and drop-out rates are reported in late fall and could be cut off as a result of the vetoed funding.

That’s because CDE staffers in charge of running the service center will most likely have to be redirected within the department or, possibly, laid off.

The arm that reaches out to IBM to communicate complaints and suggestions reported in the service center will also be affected by the veto, said Ashley, leaving the contractors at IBM to continue building a product without any governmental direction. CSIS, who administers technical advice to IBM, estimated it has enough money to continue advising IBM until November.

But the governor’s veto statement said CDE has had more than enough time and resources to fully complete CalPADS by now and criticized the lack of transparency not only within the process of the database’s construction but within the state’s educational system as a whole as a result of the program being incomplete.

“Enough is enough,” the governor wrote. “I am concerned that the resources allocated for this purpose lack necessary accountability to ensure the citizens of California receive a high quality longitudinal educational data system.”

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