New Data System Blamed for Skewing Student Records in North Carolina

By Danielle Wilson — February 24, 2014 2 min read
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Glitches in a new computer-data system have left both students and school officials in North Carolina frustrated with inaccurate grade point averages and school enrollment numbers, problems that have affected class rankings, report cards, transcripts, and potentially, even students’ eligibility for sports.

PowerSchool, a data system created by the major education company Pearson Inc., has already been blamed for a long list of problems for public schools throughout the state, leaving both the company and school officials in troubleshooting mode.

The system was purchased by the state in 2010, and implemented this school year at a cost of $7.1 million annually. What state officials believed was a more secure platform than the system that preceded it, called NC Wise, has left schools throughout the state frustrated with technical issues.

One of the affected districts was the 145,000-student Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system, where Superintendent Heath Morrison described the rollout of the data system in their district as “a train wreck” in the Raleigh News & Observer.

Inaccurate transcripts produced by the data system have caused a major headache for high school seniors applying for college admissions and scholarships in several districts, according to the story. PowerSchool was not properly tallying grades for honors and Advanced Placement courses and couldn’t calculate mid-year grade point averages for students in yearlong courses, district officials have said. Johnston County and Wake County school districts are waiting for the problem to be fixed before they print student transcripts.

According to school officials in both counties, students have been advised to notify their prospective schools. Multiple school districts have sent letters to colleges and universities on behalf of their high school seniors explaining the transcript issues.

Teachers at all grade levels have reported problems with the system. In the Wake County system, district officials have said that the electronic gradebook’s performance has been sluggish, often freezing and causing unsaved data to be lost. Those problems have caused delays in releasing report cards this year, according to the story.

Student-athletes may have problems with their eligibility for sports if the glitches aren’t fixed soon. Schools base grade eligibility on the students’ performance the previous semester, and teams found to be using ineligible players may have to forfeit their games.

North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction has put out weekly updates of both problems associated with the PowerSchool system, and fixes. Pearson has cooperated with districts in making fixes, according to the story.

“When issues occur, we work closely with state education officials and local district leaders to correct them as quickly as possible,” Pearson spokesman Brandon Pinette told the News & Observer. Despite the woes experienced by districts across the state, there are no plans to nix the PowerSchool system.

“I understand that it’s been difficult. The truth is we were going to have to make the change from the NC Wise software at some point,” Vanessa Jeter, a spokeswoman for the department of public instruction, told the newspaper.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.