States Learn From Failures in Arizona Student Data System

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Date: August 3, 2004
Subject(s): Education
Creator(s): McLaren, Jay
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After seven years and $12 million, the state of Arizona has created an electronic system that tracks the whereabouts of the stateís 900,000 students. School officials are questioning the effectiveness of the system and the wisdom in holding on to what is now an outdated method of delivering large amounts of data. The Student Accountability Information System (SAIS) promised to save the state millions of dollars by more accurately tracking student enrollment, but may have ended up costing the state and its schools more than they saved.

The original reason to build SAIS was to end the practice of schools sending the state their own estimates of student attendance. Lawmakers, led by the state schools chief, did not trust the numbers schools were sending and believed a more accurate count would save millions of state dollars. The state appears to have bungled every decision since then to create a system that only tracks students (poorly) and requires millions more to share more information. Perhaps the lone innovative approach the state used was to assign individual student identification numbers to track each student as they made their way through the educational system.

Instead of developing a central system through one vendor, the state allowed schools to use different vendors to feed into the system. The decision has cost school districts big money. Schools have spent additional millions of their own dollars to purchase software, hire technology specialists, and train front office staff. At the same time, state trainers are having trouble keeping the assorted vendors and district programmers informed about the systemís quirks and changing guidelines for entering data.

State officials now must decide if they will pump more money into SAIS or start from scratch with a new system. Technology specialists say the financial accounting system is out of date and unfriendly, slow, and prone to errors. In order to provide more detailed student and teacher information, in part to comply with NCLB, the state will probably be forced to develop a new, web-based, centralized system. Otherwise, districts will continue to pour more money into its own system to produce the required student and teacher performance data.

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