State will shut down Schoolnet system on June 30

The days are numbered for the costly and flawed Schoolnet instructional management system.

The State Department of Education will pull the plug on the Schoolnet system on June 30, the department’s chief technology officer told lawmakers Wednesday.

The department has been looking for a path away from the Schoolnet mess since March,  when state auditors issued a scathing report that said the state had sunk $61.5 million into a statewide system that failed to provide timely and useful information to classroom teachers.

On Wednesday, the Legislature’s joint oversight committee took a second look at the Schoolnet audit — and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s repairs to a system she inherited from her predecessor, Tom Luna.

“We knew there were a lot of things to fix,” chief technology officer Chris Campbell said Wednesday.

The fixes are ongoing, even as school districts look to replace Schoolnet with an instructional management system of their own choosing. The state is working on an application to allow districts to download student test scores into their IMS — and a system to transfer Discovery Education teaching materials from Schoolnet to a district IMS.

The 2015 Legislature gave districts $2.6 million to choose their own systems — a lump sum that pales in comparison to the state and private funding that went into the original Schoolnet system.

Those costs were still on lawmakers’ minds Wednesday. “Is there anything left from the investment that we made?” asked House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

While nearly $24 million went into Schoolnet software and supporting purchases, the balance of the $61.5 million went into classroom technology and teacher training. These investments still have lasting value to school districts, said Lance McCleve of the Office of Performance Evaluations, the state’s auditing arm.

McCleve gave Ybarra’s department high marks for its response to the Schoolnet audit. “We’re surprised we made so much progress so quickly on this.”

The department also received some praise for its fixes to another troubled data project from the Luna years — the Idaho System for Educational Excellence, the state’s longitudinal student data system. OPE issued a separate report on this system in February, criticizing the system’s cumbersome monthly reporting requirements.

Since February, the State Department of Education has tried to scale back ISEE requirements. The monthly reports are a thing of the past, Campbell said; districts now need to upload reports only five or six times a year. The state also shaved the number of data elements required — the state requires only 390 items per report, down from 566 a year ago.

The state’s response drew high marks from OPE and lawmakers alike. Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, praised the department for listening to district officials’ concerns.

“I can’t thank you enough,” she said.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, which provided $19.4 million in grants for the Schoolnet project.