SMMUSD HDQTRS — Web developers and school district staff are begging parents and teachers’ patience with a web-based application meant to provide easy access to student information that has resulted in missing grades and faulty transcripts.
The system, Illuminate, is an all-in-one application that allows teachers to record attendance, grades, behavior records and other information and gives parents the ability to track their children’s assignments and grades.
It’s been targeted by parents who had difficulty getting through to the information and by teachers who have complained that the system is difficult to use and loses information they put in, wasting their time.
Many of the problems are a matter of working out the kinks as massive amounts of information move from a system that’s been in place for 25 years to the new one that will, in the end, be easier to use and meet all state requirements, said Ruthy Mangle, director of Information Services with the district.
“I understand that change is very difficult, but the thing that I have found fascinating is that the community of Santa Monica and the parents are so involved in their children’s education,” Mangle said. “It’s amazing to me, and wonderful.”
That’s not good enough for many, particularly parents who are concerned that incorrect transcripts could have gone out to colleges or that the grade reports they get could be wrong, if they can access the system at all.
“Thank God our son is not a senior,” said Lisette Gold, a Samohi parent. “I would have had a heart attack.”
Since Illuminate replaced its predecessor Pinnacle, there have been problems, she said.
At the end of a semester, all of the grades disappeared before parents or students were able to see their final grades. Grades no longer included weights, so it was difficult to see what impact an assignment had on the overall grade.
That’s a problem for parents trying to engage with their children’s education.
“If your child takes a test and gets a C, you know they didn’t learn that material,” Gold said. “It empowers a parent to work with their child to get a great education.”
Teachers continue to have problems with the system as well. Entered grades disappeared, and calling up reports became much more difficult.
“It’s really been a problem,” said Sarah Braff, vice president of the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association. “Teachers need a system that makes our lives easier, not one that complicates it and takes more time.”
The Board of Education grilled creator Alan Rankin, of Illuminate Education, on the product at Jan. 19’s meeting for answers as to why the $420,457 system was drawing such ire from its users.
“This is just the latest of an onslaught of criticism,” said Board President Ben Allen.
Rankin, a former teacher, admitted that there were problems with pieces of the system, particularly the original version of the software that teachers use to input grades.
An updated version has been deployed, and teachers have begun training on it already.
Other problems, like incorrect transcripts, were fixed days after the bug was found, Rankin said.
“We did all of that on our side, and on our nickel,” Rankin said. “We haven’t charged the district an extra penny for anything we’ve done with the system.”
Administrators purchased the system in 2010 using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, primarily because Pinnacle was no longer supported by its creator.
A team of district and school site officials selected the software package, and a smaller group including Mangle went to Monterey Peninsula Unified School District to watch it in action before buying it.
The district already uses a piece of software by the makers of Illuminate called Data Director.
The Illuminate system has replaced an overall software package that’s been in the district for over two decades, Mangle said, and the transition will take time.
“We had the old system for 25 years. When we got that system, it was vanilla,” Mangle said. “We customized it over a 25-year period. Everything we wanted or needed or someone thought of was there, but it took 25 years to get to that point.”