Local News

Computerized Grade System Runs Into More Bugs

Posted January 4, 2006

— Is it millions of dollars gone to waste? There's more debate over a statewide school computer program called NC WISE. Now state education leaders are dealing with a management shake-up and contract dispute.

Critics believe NC WISE has all the trappings of a government boondoggle -- past-due, over-budget, and dogged by problems. Now the state Board of Education is trying to salvage the system.

The NC WISE assignment was a statewide computer system linking every public school with detailed attendance, grade, health, and demographic records. But after seven years and millions in cost overruns, the highly touted technology gets a failing grade.

"It really hasn't panned out to be what we hoped it could be," said Cathryn McKinney of the N.C. Association of Educators.

McKinney said teachers around the state were trained and promised less paperwork and more time to teach. In most cases, that hasn't happened.

"It's certainly a huge concern because they're kind of stuck in the middle of the stream again with a system that is not working effectively," said McKinney.

Add to that the money problems. NC WISE had an initial budget of $55 million. More realistic estimates pushed it to $150 million. Although it's only one-third complete, the overall costs are expected to balloon to $250 million.

"We have much work to do in resolving some of the issues that now face us," said state Superintendent June Atkinson.

The state Board of Education is now working to resolve a contract dispute with IBM over software problems.

"Obviously, there have been enough mistakes on both sides," said N.C. Board of Education chairman Howard Lee.

Lee is taking a more active role in overseeing NC WISE. Instead of abandoning ship, he's shaking up the crew.

"We probably didn't have the strongest people in place to give the leadership, and we've tried to make some adjustments there," said Lee,

Despite the missteps, education leaders still believe NC WISE can work.

"We're looking at ways of maximizing our investment," said Lee.

South Carolina also implemented a student record computer system. It lacks the bells and whistles of NC WISE, but it's finished and cost less than $40 million.

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