Mobile Public School’s Grading System Causing Issues

Grades disappearing, added absences to attendance, miscalculated grades and most recently the delayed release of report cards; these are some of the problems Mobile County Public School teachers say they are facing with the new computer software, Information NOW.

I-NOW is the Web-based application responsible for maintaining essential records such as grades, attendance and grade point averages for students. The program was introduced to the MCPSS this school year, and so far it hasn’t had a very positive reception. The most public of those problems was the two-week-late delivery of the first semester’s report cards.

Lagniappe spoke with several teachers, all who were reluctant to reveal their identity, fearful of job security. However, each teacher Lagniappe spoke with had at least 15 years of experience teaching, the majority of those years spent in the MCPSS.

Every teacher agreed this is the worst start to a school year in his or her entire teaching career.

Deputy State Superintendent of Education, Division of Administrative and Financial Services Dr. Craig Pouncey said part of the problem was the way I-NOW was rolled out.

“There was such a short time frame in which I-NOW was introduced to teachers in Mobile that they didn’t have an adequate amount of time to make a smooth transition,” Pouncey said.

One Mary G. Montgomery teacher described her introduction to the program.

“We received an email last spring that told us we would be switching to a new software,” the teacher said. “That’s all we were told. We walked into school on the first day without any training or knowledge of the new program.”

In a letter addressed to Dr. Joe Morton, State Superintendent of Education, on Oct. 12, Mary Bruce Ogles of the Alabama Education Association listed a number of complaints about I-NOW, which include, but are not limited to, “Averaging grades incorrectly, data disappearing, information not printing, information not posting, comments disappearing, tests incorrectly averaging, credits disappearing or doubling and the program failing to respond to commands.”

Ogles letter also included responses she had received after speaking with education officials.

“When I have spoken with officials at the Alabama State Department of Education, I have been told that the problems stem from lack of training of employees and a few minor glitches with STI,” Ogles wrote.

Pouncey said there are no problems with the system, just certain glitches that have occurred in the early installation phases.

Desiree Thing, a senior at MGM, said she doesn’t think these glitches are so minor.

“A glitch can be fixed, this is a problem that is affecting us now,” Thing said.

Thing told Lagniappe her midterm grade in physics was an 84 when it should have been an 89 – the computer rounded down four points. Luckily for Thing, her teacher has kept a hard copy grade book, while also continuing to enter grades into the program; a trend most teachers say is becoming a necessity.

The potential that this program could possibly mess up Thing’s future scholarship opportunities isn’t something she’s happy about either.

“If this problem can’t be fixed, they (the school system) are messing up my future and nothing is going to happen to them,” Thing stressed. “I’ve worked hard to keep my GPA where it is. Every tenth of a point, every fraction matters when it comes to grades.”

Thing is currently in the top 25 academic percentile of her graduating class. She is ranked 37 out of almost 400 students.

A meeting was held between school representatives, Morton and STI, according to Ogles. She said complaints were voiced towards STI, who were then given a chance to respond; afterwards Morton spoke, saying he wanted this problem fixed now.

Project Director of I-NOW for the state, A.J. Price, said he could understand the teachers’ and administrators’ frustrations with the program.

“I was working in the field when the state introduced STI along time ago,” Price said. “It had some similar problems as I-NOW. But, they eventually smoothed them out. Right now we’re working on the bumps in the road.”

Teachers said even though they are frustrated with the software, their primary concerns are the students.
“When this is all finally sorted out and fixed we’ll still be here,” an MGM teacher said. “But, while we still collect a paycheck, the students are repeatedly hurt.”

Last year five school districts in the state were pilots for I-NOW, including Lee County, Auburn County, Opelika City, Chamber County and Russell County, according to Pouncey.

“These pilot groups faced some of the similar problems,” Pouncey said. “But, a year later they are telling us how much easier it has become and that they enjoy it.”

There are roughly a little more than 15,000 schools in the state, each falling into one of the 151 districts. I-NOW is being installed in three phases; currently the second phase is being completed. Once the third phase takes place, the state will be completely reliant on I-NOW.

“This is something Alabama can depend on,” Pouncey said. When Lagniappe asked Thing how she felt about this program going statewide she responded by saying, “I’d move to a different state.”

The original title of this story, as published in Lagniappe:Grade software brings troubles. It originally appeared in the November 2, 2010, print edition.