DODDS schools' administrative software fails to meet grade expectations
June 21, 2006
DARMSTADT, Germany — Students at Department of Defense schools who are eager to find out what their grades are may have to wait a few more days while computer database problems continue to plague DOD schools in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
The backup in reporting student grades is the latest in a long line of complications that DOD schools worldwide have had with Student Management Solutions, a student information management program created by Chancery Software.
The program uses a centralized, Internet-based database to track grades, attendance and student registration information, among other data, for the approximately 100,000 students who attend more than 200 DOD-operated schools worldwide.
The program cost the Department of Defense Education Activity $7.4 million for a five-year contract that began in the fall of the 2005-06 school year. In its first year, the new technology has caused headaches for teachers, students, parents and administrators.
“We have heard complaints from just about every segment of the agency and our key partners,” said DODEA director Dr. Joseph Tafoya in a statement released by DODEA last week.
Complaints include teachers and registrars not being able to access the server to update student information as well as miscalculations of grades and transcripts. Some schools have had to recalculate grades on their own.
“Unfortunately, it’s the teachers and staff who have really borne the burden of the problems,” said Stan Vergnani, the School Information System team leader responsible for overseeing the implementation of SMS in DOD schools in Europe.
The heap of grievances caused Tafoya to order an independent investigation by the Defense Contract Management Agency. The report, based on interviews with DODEA officials involved with SMS, concluded that the program was imposed too quickly without enough planning or field testing. Officials had regarded SMS as an upgrade from the existing Win School program, also a Chancery product, instead of treating it as a new program.
“You cannot change a system like this overnight,” said Frank O’Gara, a spokesman for the military’s school system headquarters in Virginia.
The report also ruled out any evidence of fraud or willful misconduct by the software company, although the contract was deemed “inadequate” in only requiring the company to deliver the system and provide licensing. O’Gara said there are no plans to discontinue the five-year contract.
Andrea Carson, marketing manager at Chancery, which is based in British Columbia, said the complications experienced by DODEA with the program are normal and have come up with other customers as well.
“In an enterprise level implementation that is highly customizable, this is not unusual,” she said.
Chancery SMS has been implemented in over 200 school districts representing almost 2.5 million students, Carson said.
“Chancery is very aware of the issues with DODEA schools,” said Carson. “With an application of this size and complexity, not all issues are able to be solved quickly. That said, we continue working until the problems are resolved.”
Chancery agents have been working with the schools to work out the kinks.
“They’ve been very helpful,” said Vergnani. “The problems started in September and reached a crisis in November, but things have been improving quite a bit since January.”
DODEA officials are hoping to have most of the bumps smoothed out by the beginning of the 2006-07 academic year. Tafoya has commissioned a task force, made up of teachers and information technology specialists, under the direction of Mike Lynch, DODEA chief of staff, to resolve the problems. He doesn’t know whether there will be additional costs.
“It is our responsibility as a school system to be absolutely accurate in tracking and reporting of student information and student progress,” said Tafoya in a DODEA release. “We owe that to our employees, students and their parents.”