COUNTY LINES

The case of the missing grades; or, the computer gobbled my report card

Slow learner. Report card day used to mean thinking up inventive excuses: The cat ate my report card. My teacher has dyslexia and was thinking A-plus but wrote D by mistake. My teacher said grades are a hierarchical construct of an outworn paternalistic society.

In Montgomery County, Md., however, the most recent report card day gave students a new excuse: computer error. More than 10,000 students in the county received report cards with grades missing.

The culprit? A new, ready-for-2000,
$4 million client-server system that evidently wasn't ready for prime time. The county last year replaced its 25-year-old student information database with the Student Information System (SIS). County systems officials worked with two companies to develop the system, prime contractor Marconi Systems Technologies Inc. of Rockville, Md., and software developer Administrative Assistants Ltd. of Burlington, Ontario.

Brian Curry, president of the Canadian company, said SIS is a client-server system that runs on an Oracle database and can handle enterprise computing in large school districts. It stores grades, health records, special-education information, community service records and family information. This month, Administrative Assistants will introduce a Web-enabled version of the software.


SIS boom bah. SIS started off the current school year with a bang. It crashed the first day. Thousands of high school students had to wait in the hallways and cafeterias because the class registration feature of the system wasn't working.

'It was really rough,' said Fran Landau, a guidance counselor at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. Every school in the county used the system that first day to assign student schedules and run reports. 'It just couldn't handle the load, so it slowed down to less than a crawl,' Landau said. She said SIS ran out of memory. It apparently wasn't equipped to handle the county's 120,000 student records, Landau said.

Ronald Walsh, the former chief IT officer, was dismissed by superintendent Jerry D. Weast the first week of school because of the problems.


Not so fast. Kate Harrison, a spokeswoman for the school system, said the county's IT staff is working on the report card glitch. But this is one problem that any underachieving high school student might not want fixed right away.



'Trudy Walsh E-mail: twalsh@gcn.com

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