The data management system for California’s K-12 schools has been on the fritz since it was updated in April, then rolled out with minimal testing, potentially jeopardizing school district funding, according to a report from CalMatters.

The California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) stores information for the state’s 6 million public school students. It’s how the state knows how many students have learning disabilities, are experiencing homelessness or qualify as English learners. The California Department of Education uses this demographic data to calculate how much funding will go to the state’s more than 1,000 school districts. Districts with more high-needs students get more money based on that data.

While one department official said nearly all the state’s schools will still get their full funding, the recent malfunctions have alarmed some district officials.

Earlier this year, the state’s new software update generated reams of inaccurate data about students with disabilities, disrupting standardized testing. Leading up to the new school year, districts that usually might have a few dozen initial errors were seeing thousands when their data specialists uploaded student data into the statewide system. The errors included wrong enrollment numbers, duplicate student information and missing information about accommodations for students with disabilities. Administrators feared they would lose funding due to these inaccuracies.

Michael Fine, chief executive officer of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) told CalMatters the rollout of the upgrade was “less than satisfactory and did not follow the expectations of the field or FCMAT.” He added that best practices for system revisions were not followed and that minimal testing may have further complicated the rollout of an already complex system.

The much-needed system upgrade also compromised standardized testing at schools across the state.

For the last several months, data specialists at California’s school districts have been frustrated by the bugs in the system. At the Fullerton School District, data team members were seeing up to 10,000 errors when they uploaded information, where they would only see about a dozen in previous years. Some districts had hundreds of thousands of errors before the department of education started fixing the issues.

Malia Vella, a deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education, said about 98% of districts should be able to get all their data certified and secure their funding by the September deadline. Vella said the department is working with districts to address the errors and that California allows districts more time than other states to submit their data.

The stakes for reliable data are higher than ever. The state needs to have a clear picture of student enrollment and achievement so it can allocate the necessary resources to help them recover academically, socially and emotionally from the pandemic’s impact.

The information in the statewide system is the basis of accountability platforms like the California School Dashboard that shows the public everything from enrollment figures to suspension rates at every school in the state. The problems with the data system started in April when the education department updated its software.

In May, the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators wrote an open letter to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond detailing several issues with the data system. Among them, students with disabilities were not getting the accommodations they needed during standardized testing.

For the past several months, the education department has been fixing the errors. In mid-September, there were still nearly 100 known issues with the data system.

The department has seven developer positions to run the statewide system,  but these are part-time employees that equate to about three full-time staff. There are currently three additional open positions, two of which have been open since November 2021.