Tough Sledding for Ed Data Project
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. State Superintendent of Education Kerri L. Briggs didn't have a lot to say Monday about why they canned Williams, Adley & Co., hired last year to build a $12 million educational data warehouse. But in an eight-page termination letter, John P. Varghese, interim assistant director of the District's office of contracting and procurement, had plenty.
The Sept. 9 letter, hand delivered to Williams, Adley managing partner Kola Isiaq, said in essence that the firm made a hash of just about every critical element of the project, formally known as the Statewide Longitudinal Education Data Warehouse System (SLED). One section refers parenthetically to a "Defect # 616," never a good sign.
"To date, Williams Adley has failed to deliver the system as stated in the technical design document," Varghese wrote, adding that the firm "has provided no acceptable excuses for failure to deliver."
SLED was supposed to bring order and coherence to information about the District's education system--DCPS, public charter schools and the University of the District of Columbia--now scattered among databases, file cabinets and desk drawers in multiple agencies.
The finished product was envisioned as a portal through which parents and policymakers could track the academic progress of students and teachers from pre-school to college graduation. Such a system is now regarded by education experts and federal regulators as essential for school districts in need of reform.
But what was supposed to be a signature initiative for OSSE (Office of the State Superintendent of Education) is now close to a year behind schedule. Briggs, who was not around when Williams, Adley got the job, said she hopes to have a new contractor within a couple of months.
Some components that were supposed to be in place by now, including a unique ten-digit identifying number for each District student, and a list of kids certified for free or reduced price lunch, are not complete. Varghese's letter, which followed a detailed warning notice issued in June, said District officials don't even have a way of knowing whether the fragment of a system they have is working.
"The Contracting Officer is aware of multiple times over the last few months when the SLED system has been inoperable and the monitoring system has failed to alert the District of any problems," he said.
Varghese also said that the company pulled what amounted to a bait-and-switch (our descriptor, not his) with its technical personnel, noting that "many of the persons previously identified in Williams Adley's second Best and Final Offer have not worked on the SLED project," and that the firm "introduced other resources without communication or approval," from District officials.
Williams, Adley also promised to provide "change management," bureaucratese for showing folks how to use SLED. But that never happened either, according to Varghese, who said the District eventually had to hire another firm to handle it.
The "critical defect" was SLED's inability to carry over student names from the last school year to this one, a big problem for what is supposed to be a longitudinal data system. Citing an Aug. 7 e-mail sent to the company, Varghese said the "fundamental purpose and function of a longitudinal data system [was] meant to track data over time [and] not replenish data each year."
There is, no doubt especially where District government is concerned, another side to the story. The letter refers to several responses filed by Williams, Adley, including an Aug. 4 e-mail citing a "defect in OSSE's requirements set up for SLED" as the reason for the problem with the student names. But we've yet to see those, and Isiaq has not responded to numerous phone messages.
- Bill Turque
Washington Post editors
September 30, 2009; 9:35 AM ET
Categories: Bill Turque
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