Ever since New York City’s special education data system launched in 2011, it has been mired in technical difficulties. But a new report shows just how pervasive those glitches have been.
The report is the first release from a multi-agency group within the city that is working to fix the Special Education Student Information System — a key piece of infrastructure that is supposed to electronically track learning plans for more than 200,000 students with disabilities.
And while the report found that the city has made some strides in overhauling the system, it also paints a bleak picture of what special education teachers and administrators have been wrestling with. Here are a few examples from the report:
- One category of user queries related to special education programmatic services on IEPs [individualized education programs], that previously failed about 800,000 times a day, no longer has any failures.
- A “Missing Files” issue that resulted in HTTP 404 errors about 10,000 times a day, now occurs just 8 times a day.
- A search-related problem that used to result in about 3,100 timeouts a day is down to just 600 timeouts a day.
Errors like these have long frustrated educators. At a forum last year, one teacher said she faced 41 error messages over a single two-hour span. Early on, the flaws forced so many educators to input data on nights and weekends that an arbitrator required the city to pay $38 million in overtime.
The system has contributed to another major problem: SESIS’s inability to communicate with various city databases means officials don’t know exactly how many students don’t receive mandated special education services.
The city is investing millions of dollars in staff and upgrades that officials have said will help solve some of these longstanding problems. In a statement, education department spokeswoman Toya Holness said the city was “working to implement these changes as quickly as possible,” though she did not provide an exact timeline for upgrades.
The city’s efforts are earning some praise, including from the public advocate, who sued the city last year claiming SESIS has caused $356 million in lost Medicaid reimbursements.
“The new assessment and recommendations from the DOE show a clear trajectory towards fixing this broken system, in line with what my office has called for,” Public Advocate Letitia James said in a statement.
Maggie Moroff, a disability policy expert at Advocates for Children, said the report validates the idea that problems with SESIS have persisted for years without being adequately addressed. But the bigger issue, she emphasized, is that many students with disabilities are going without services they need.
“We can’t wait,” Moroff said. “They have to be fixing [SESIS] and fix the service deficiencies in the system at the same time.”