Education data software not making the grade in Idaho

Schoolnet is supposed to help Idaho teachers, but they say it doesn't work reliably.

broberts@idahostatesman.comSeptember 13, 2013 

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    As the state moves toward a longitudinal data system to collect information on students, critics have complained that information could include Social Security numbers and religious and biometric information.

    You can check for yourself to see what data is collected on your child. Parents can ask the State Department of Education to furnish them that information, said Joyce Popp, chief information officer.

Note: This story has been corrected to show that Schoonet is not part of the School Improvement Network, as originally reported.

A software program in 57 Idaho school districts that is meant to help improve student academic performance was criticized by educators Thursday for not working properly.

Cindy Sisson, Meridian School District curriculum director, said much of the Schoolnet system sits idle in her district because she doesn't trust the data on it. She won't train teachers on a system she considers unreliable, she told an interim legislative committee on K-12 education.

"Our folks are really frustrated," she said.

Several committee members expressed concern over Schoolnet.

"It was worse than I thought," said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls. "The data is not in any kind of form to be useful."

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation paid for the state to use the system over three years and to hold a license to operate the program in perpetuity.

But beginning next year, the state will have to pay $4.5 million annually for maintenance and other costs.

Schoolnet operates in thousands of schools in the United State and globally, according to the company's website.

State school officials acknowledge they have encountered problems rolling out the technology, but said they are in the pilot stages of developing the program for Idaho.

Idaho has distributed $4 million to pilot districts to help implement the program, said Tom Luna, state superintendent of public instruction.

Meridian — Idaho's largest school district — has experienced the most difficulty in getting Schoolnet to work properly, Luna said.

Statewide, Schoolnet is in the hands of more than 9,000 teachers and 143,000 students.

Schoolnet is supposed to provide student information on academic performance, give teachers test questions and show which classes students have taken.

Georgeann Griffith, technology director at Lakeland School District, said the system has provided challenges.

She never got test scores from April's Idaho Standards Achievement Test last May as she expected. She didn't see the scores on Schoolnet until fall - too late to examine them for lessons for that new school year, she said.

Sisson told the committee that Schoolnet showed only 2 percent of juniors were ready for college, based on the latest SAT students took last spring.

The actual percentage was in the high 30s to mid-40s, depending on which of the three parts of the exam — reading, writing and math — were scored.

She also said the district can't use the test questions because there doesn't appear to be enough security to keep other people from seeing them.

"Based on what I heard today, there is a lot of work." said Horman, a member of the Senate Education Committee. "The question becomes, 'Is it cost-effective to continue on this path or look for something else that is working?' "

Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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