New York panel approves $ 43 million to replace struggling special education data system

12 October 2021

A city-wide panel this week paved the way for New York City to begin revising its special education data system, approving nearly $ 43 million to replace the expensive database and problematic more than two years after authorities first announced their intention to remove it.

The city’s Special Education Pupil Information System, known as SESIS, is responsible for tracking the services that students with disabilities are expected to receive, their assessments, and progress toward achieving their goals. But the system, which cost $ 130 million to develop, has been plagued by problems since its launch in 2011. The new system is expected to be ready by fall 2023, city officials said.

The city’s Panel for Educational Policy on Wednesday approved nearly $ 43 million over five years for the education department to contract with a Milwaukee-based company called Experis to help replace the system, the result of a competitive bidding process.

City officials have pushed for a bespoke alternative to SESIS that can be adapted to New York’s complex special education system rather than a standard replacement. The new system will integrate data on disabled preschool students, which is currently housed in a separate system.

Advocates hope that replacing SESIS will have tangible benefits for the city’s more than 200,000 disabled students. Because SESIS is incompatible with other databases in the city, including those that track classes in which students are actually enrolled, it is difficult to get up-to-date information on whether students are in classrooms. class with the right ratios of students and educators, advocates said. City officials have already been forced to manually cross reference data from different systems.

SESIS has also hampered the city’s ability to release accurate data on whether students are receiving the legally mandated special education services to which they are entitled.

“I am very happy that the city has finally allocated the resources to change [SESIS] and create a better system, which can only mean that more children can get what they are entitled to in a timely manner, ”said Lori Podvesker, Special Education Policy Expert at INCLUDEnyc and Member from the education policy panel that voted to endorse the city’s proposal.

Still, his vote to approve the funding came with some reservations. She is concerned that the city is prioritizing profitability over the best possible platform, and wonders if Experis has enough experience building data systems for special education. “Do I trust it’s going to be great? Absolutely not,” Podvesker said. “But I believe it will be better than what we have.”

Experis officials stressed that the new system will be created according to the specifications of the education department and will be owned by the city, which will not have to pay the ongoing license fees. The city will also be able to modify the system if necessary. Michael Corley, chief executive of the company, said in a prepared statement that Experis “has subject matter experts who are proficient in the services, practices and delivery of special education programs.”

Importantly, Experis will also provide a portal for parents for families to communicate about their child’s learning plan, monitor the services provided and give parents direct access to their child’s individualized education program, the said. spokesperson for the education department, Sarah Casasnovas.

“This will help families get real-time information and allow transparent reporting and monitoring to ensure our students get the support they are entitled to,” Casasnovas said in a statement.

Advocates have long called for more real-time information on whether students are receiving services and allowing parents to access them, giving families a powerful tool to advocate for their children’s rights and city officials a clearer picture necessary resources. It is not clear what information parents will be able to access in the new system.

“Sometimes it feels like they’re relying on our escalations to figure out where to send help,” said Maggie Moroff, who works on special education policy issues for Advocates for Children. She hopes a new system will help city officials respond more quickly to situations where students aren’t receiving needed therapy – or are even in the wrong type of classroom.

Moroff noted that city authorities recently gave parents direct access to some data on special education, including whether teachers in their courses have special education certification and the most recent dates for services such as speech therapy. or occupational therapy.

During its ten years of existence, SESIS has caused headaches for teachers, families and city officials.

Educators have long complained that SESIS is difficult and time-consuming to use, and that the system has sometimes malfunctioned more than 800,000 times a day.

Special education teachers often spent hours navigating a maze of drop-down menus – entering data such as whether they had met a student and for how long – only to encounter error messages that erased their responses. (An arbitrator ultimately ordered the city to pay teachers over $ 38 million in overtime.)

In addition, former public lawyer Letitia James filed a lawsuit claiming that SESIS was to blame for some children not receiving services as well as for the loss of Medicaid payments. Between 2012 and 2015, according to the IBO, the city collected $ 373 million less in Medicaid reimbursements than authorities anticipated.

Megan Moskop-Toler, a special education educator who has already encountered 41 error messages in the span of two hours, said she hoped a new data system wouldn’t take so long so she could get it right. focus more on students rather than data entry. sometimes redundant tasks.

Specialist teacher Megan Moskop at a forum in 2016 where she described problems with the data tracking system, SESIS /Patrick Wall / Chalkbeat

She also highlighted more systematic issues with special education staff, saying knowing where students are not receiving services is only part of the problem.

“The heart of the problem is the lack of personnel and resources,” she said. “Nobody says, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do physiotherapy on their children.'”

Other educators said they were concerned if such a massive undertaking would cause unforeseen problems and delays that could impact the timeliness of special education or other service assessments.

“I’m just worried about what the transfer will look like,” said Annie Tan, a special education teacher from Brooklyn. ” I used [SESIS] for about six years now and I think it was like the second or third year that I finally figured out all the places to put things. “

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Subscribe to their newsletters here.

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