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Teacher test score tracking screws up school opening in NYC

September 6, 2008 pm30 9:59 pm

High School Scheduling System Stalled

As schools scramble to balance class sizes and give schedules to new students, the New York City Department of Education’s computer scheduling system sputtered and stalled due to secret modifications.

Counselors, Schedulers, left to admit new students, fix schedules, balance classes in the dark

HSST, the high school scheduling software used by NY City high schools, stopped producing reports Wednesday AM. Class lists, room use reports, old report cards, no, no, no. Only student schedules and transcripts continued to be available (on “the client”) until later that same day, when that system failed as well.

DoE secret teacher tracking project to blame

The explanation, unusually heavy load, is itself a load (of?) More likely: the DoE modified HSST to push linking teachers to test scores, and the modifications screwed everything up.

Status updates (below fold) tell story

When school opened Tuesday, guidance counselors and programmers braced themselves for the normal onslaught of issues: new students arriving without schedules, classes that the computer packed with far too many children, students scheduled to repeat a class but who made it up in summer school, or students scheduled to move ahead, but who did not pass their courses, teachers who retired and needed to be replaced, new classes that needed to be created because demand exceeded June’s expectations, or that needed to be canceled because of low demand, or because a teacher was needed elsewhere.

Counselors and programmers also expected problems with the scheduling system. Every year since it was introduced, HSST has had September problems, and stalls or halts at least once. We understand, it is by design, the Department of Education steadfastly refuses to acquire sufficient servers for peak-load. It is ‘brown-out as a way of life.’

But this year? Boom! Three days without reports. Even reports on the ‘clients’ failed. And it wasn’t the normal accident.

The Department of Education is hellbent on linking teachers and test scores. But they can’t do it from their central offices. They need school-based personnel to do it for them. And they have been trying. And trying harder.

So they went to the high school scheduling people in the offices and Brooklyn, and made them modify HSST. They wanted annoying windows to effectively harass schedulers into linking every teacher to an e-mail account (and thereby to an employee id #) allowing the suits downtown to run reports on student test-scores by teacher.

Here are the status updates, in their own words:

9/3 3PM Reports are not running at this time. The web group is continuing to work with software company to determine why this has happened and correct any issues. Reports are working on the client machines. Where possible, try to use custom reports to get the data that you need. Most of the functions on HSST are currently working and can be used.
9/4 – 7 AM Reports ARE running. Please close the retrieve my reports screen (move to another screen) once you have displayed your report. This will reduce some of the demand on the servers.
9/4 – 9 AM The Web Administrators are reporting similar issues as we saw yesterday with Crystal reports. They are working with the company to determine what is causing the issue and to resolve it.
9/4 – 9:15 AM Crystal Performance Issues We are seeing similar issues as we did yesterday. We are opening a case with business objects. For some reason we are seeing over 15,000 sessions daily. Last year around this time we saw about 5,000.
9/4 – 6 PM HSST Reports available. The changes have been put in place for the Crystal reports, however, there were some additional changes made which I would like to make you aware of. *More information will be sent out tomorrow*. We were asked to make some changes in the way we create the teacher reference list. These changes were also moved into production. I had hoped to have the opportunity to explain them in advance and prepare documentation, but the procedure we used to correct the Crystal issues required that these changes be moved into production as well. When you first log into HSST, you will be presented with a screen listing any teacher that you have not matched on the teacher reference screen. In the upper right corner is a link to close that screen. Once closed, the first web page will have a link in the upper left that allows you to open it again. PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO UPDATE THE TEACHER REFERENCE SCREEN. More information will be provided shortly. At this time, the reports on HSST should be available for you to use.
9/5 – 7 AM Client reports. We are looking into the error messages that are being given when you try to run reports on the client.
9/5 – 2:30 PM WEEKEND SUPPORT – if you are planning on working this weekend, we are HIGHLY suggesting that you contact one of the ASLs in the ISC to insure that the system is up and functioning.
9/5 – 3 PM WEEKEND SUPPORT – if you are planning on working this weekend, we are HIGHLY suggesting that you contact one of the ASLs in the ISC BEFORE YOU GO TO YOUR SCHOOL OR THEIR OFFICE, to insure that the system is up and functioning.
9/5 – 4PM status – The web administrators have made a change to the Crystal server and the reports are once again running. While we remain hopeful that this will resolve the issues seen, I would still recommend contacting the ASLs tomorrow or Sunday morning if you are planning on working on the system.

*not a surprise – the information they promised for Friday was not sent out*

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