Howard County Maryland Blog

Convention of States in Maryland

School Grading Software V

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, October 6, 2006

Board of Education Candidate Roger Lerner sent this update regarding the SMS

1. SMS is a disaster, doesn’t work, stops everything else from working by tying up the network resources. This has been true for some time. PTA council has made everyone aware of it. School Board said they were being alarmist. Seems they were right on the money

2. School system is grappling with deciding whether it can be fixed or they should start again. This is a particularly hard question and they are not allowing any outside expertise from the community (lots of first class, IT pros in Howard County ready to help) to help in the process. They are playing their cards extremely close to the vest, probably out of fear. It is a common reaction, it rarely works out well

3. They have yet to agree to look into how they got here in the first place. All organizations make mistakes. Professional organizations implement processes to examine the mistakes and learn from them so they don’t repeat them. Hospitals do this, engineering firms do this, the military does this and most IT organizations do this. Part of adopting “best practices” is looking at your mistakes.

4. SMS highlights two key problems. Problem 1: HCPSS is essentially closed from meaningful community participation. All advice is, as a matter of policy, filtered through central office staff. This may work in areas where staff is expert, like education (though some would argue community input could help even there), but it leads to unfortunate results in other areas, Q.E.D. No organization can be all things to all people. Problem 2: Nobody is prepared to admit to a mistake. It is tough being perfect. Efforts spent denying error are simply a waste, or worse, a distraction from the solution

Previous Posts on the subject

In the Howard County Blog Association Forum we asked BoE candidates the following question with this very issue in mind.

How do you think the school board should address technology purchases/upgrades to avoid problems such as what occurred with the Student Management System software?

Joshua Kaufman

I think the problem is deeper than just purchases and upgrades. The problems with SIMS demonstrated a systemic problem with how we handle technology. We need to greatly enhance and broaden our ability to manage technology. In that sense, the silver lining of SIMS was that it served as a wakeup call. While we hopefully have addressed the specific problems with grading and reporting, that does not mean that the wider issue can be ignored.

Allen Dyer

Short term ? “kludge” the existing system to keeping it limping along while regrouping and recruiting the expertise necessary to restart the specification and selection process. Student management software is critical to providing our students with the best possible opportunities after graduation. The current Student Management System fiasco proves the board of education needs to have someone on the board that understands information technology. Our central office simply does not have the technology professionals in place to deal with the overly optimistic claims of software vendors. As someone who has been deeply involved in information technology since 1976, I have the in-depth experience necessary to help fellow board members understand what is needed and the significance of differences among the new student management system proposals that will have to be considered by the Board.One process note?I believe it is time for our Board of Education to reach out to other government bodies who already have proven technological strengths (such as the Howard County Public Library System) and form a consortium to insure informed technology decisions and uniform approaches to hardware and software standards. Our HCPSS central office can no longer afford to ignore the existing technological expertise in the county government and within the community.In addition, the Board of Education should immediately implement procurement system changes that would bring our local procurement policies into line with the statutorily mandated procedures for state agency procurement. The Court of Appeals held although “county [school] boards are generally regarded as State agencies because they are part of the State public education system, are subject to extensive supervision and control by the State Board of Education, and exercise a State function, from a budgetary and structural perspective, they are local in character” in Chesapeake Charter, Inc. v. Anne Arundel County Bd. of Educ., 358 Md. 129, 139 (2000). That does not mean, however, that a failure to comply with those recognized, statewide practices is a wise path to follow.Sandra French

Revise policy 1311. See answer to question #2. In addition:

  • Staff should prepare a detailed RFP for Board discussion and approval.
    Community technology experts and teachers should be consulted for advice, evaluation and RFP improvements. The sealed written bid process should be used.
  • Penalty clauses should be written into the contract so that it is clear which party is responsible for the cost of any overtime, cost overruns or failed deliverables.
  • Progress reports should be made to the Board on regular intervals.

Roger Lerner

Again the answer is to rely on the expertise in our very accomplished community. That is why I pushed for the revival of the technology advisory committee which is presently in formation. Had the School District presented its plans for the Student Management System Software to an advisory committee made up of experienced private sector IT professionals, many of the present problems would have been avoided. For example, the regrettable decision not to retain and maintain full redundancy, i.e. to keep the old systems until the new system had been proven to actually work, would have been otherwise. Further the timing of the purchase decision and the terms would likely have been altered significantly. The School System cannot be all things to all people. Their business is education and they need to stick to what they do best. Fortunately, we have a large group of highly accomplished people in our community who are prepared to give of their time and share their experience. It is a resource we cannot afford to waste. It is imperative however that advisory committees? be used for advice and consultation on real and immediate issues, and that their unfiltered views be presented to senior management and the Board, rather than being used predominantly for public relations purposes, as has been the case in the past.

Di Zou

The school board needs to do more research whenever they buy or upgrade software and hardware. There also needs to have someone on the Board of Education who has some background in technology which I can provide.


2 Responses to “School Grading Software V”

  1. Don Marston Jr said

    Yes, I had heard a rumor about major SIMS problems last Tuesday night at the Mayfield Woods Town Meeting. I didn’t want to comment since I thought someone in the system definitely should have by now. It is very odd that no one in the system came forward with this information. The one story that was relayed to me by a third party was that one teacher was spending 10 minutes of every class period filling out report cards.

    This is precisely the reason why we need Board of Education members outside of the current system that will really represent the interests of students, parents, teachers and the community.

    Don Marston Jr.

  2. anonymous said

    I find these hyped up comments to be very amusing. Ever notice how no one actually involved with SIMS is ever heard from? This is all just wild speculation. I can tell you want is really wrong, every year for more than 20 years everytime someone said more money should go to technology they were shouted down by this community, because everyone was to ignorant to see how technology benefited the classroom. So technology was ignored for decades, now the problem has come home to roost.

    As for allowing Howard Counties high powered IT professionals to consult on these issues. That was tried several years ago under Jay Fridkis, guess who servered on the committee? High powered IT professionals who it turned out were mostly interested in selling something to the Public School system, expect more of the same.

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