More Schools Passing Up DOE Database, Part 1

When the city spent tens of millions of dollars on a computer system for student information, officials said it would revolutionize the way schools worked. But three years later, hundreds of schools are choosing to pay for a different system, which they say works better. In the first of three stories, NY1's Lindsey Christ looks into the problems with one of the DOE's biggest contracts.

When teachers at some 200 city schools want to check their students' progress, they don't turn to cabinets full of files or grade books. They just click on their pictures to get what they need: everything from attendance by class period, parents' cell phone numbers, or the type of help the student should get because of a disability. It also gives them the hard numbers which include state exam scores and day-to-day grades, like last night's math homework or last week's chemistry quiz. At home, parents can log on to get the same information.

"It’s just, ya know, amazing how much information's there for the parents to see," said New Dorp High School Parent Coordinator Donna Lechillgrien.

Schools call it transformational -- the same word former schools chancellor Joel Klein used to describe a different data system, one the DOE developed. The city spent $80 million so schools could have the so-called ARIS system for free, but more and more of them are paying to use another system instead.

Thirty percent of high schools have bought that system, called DataCation. They pay from $4,000 to $75,000 each. Add it all up and city principals will spend about $2 million this year alone for an alternative to the DOE system.

"ARIS gave us access to students’ previous grades, but it did not give us access to transcripts, it did not give us access to programs, current information. DataCation updates their information almost daily," said New Dorp High School Teacher Michael Hubbs.

ARIS had a bumpy launch in 2008, and although many of the early problems have been fixed, schools and parents complain that it still doesn't give them enough.

"ARIS doesn't give us the information that this is giving us. I am getting a grade that she's got a 98 on an exam. ARIS is giving me what she did in third grade. I'm not interested in what she did in third grade anymore, I'm interested in what she's doing now," said Parent Jackie Tripodi.

IBM systems like ARIS have come under fire elsewhere for taking too long and not being user-friendly. North Carolina canceled its contract and California officials called for their buildout to be suspended pending a wholesale review. But DOE officials say they're proud of ARIS.

"It's become a model that New York State is looking to emulate. So we are likely to see what we've built start to be scaled in other places in the coming years," said DOE Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky.

And while the DOE touts its own system, a growing number of schools say they would rather pay for something else.

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