Loss of school records districtwide, officials say

Online grade system used by many high school and middle school teachers crashed April 26

Five weeks of online grade records and class materials affecting hundreds Palo Alto middle and high school students may have been wiped out by a computer backup that went wrong.

The grade records were from March 15 through April 26, according to Palo Alto High School's Campanile student newspaper.

School officials said Monday the loss is districtwide, affecting high and middle schools. The number of students and teachers affected is unknown, but one official said about 60 percent of teachers used the computer program -- some of whom may have kept hard copies of the records.

The Blackboard education program InClass, an online system used by many teachers to post assignments and grades, crashed April 26 after a faulty backup, The Campanile reported.

School officials told Campanile reporter Daniel Kwasnick they were working to restore the system but believed some data would be lost.

Marie Scigliano, the school district's director of educational technology, told the Campanile about 60 percent of the district's secondary teachers use InClass. Some teachers also keep paper records while others do not.

"I'm really worried for my kids," Paly social studies teacher Arlene Camm told The Campanile. "Our study guides are gone and they have finals coming up. However, I'm confident that the district will at least find a little more of the data."

Paly Science teacher Ronald Pruzan said he "lost all of my files. I was told that we had a system that worked, but apparently it doesn't."

Scigliano was not immediately available for comment. Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence said he believed technicians are still trying to recover the data, but did not know for sure.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2009 at 10:35 am

I think this occurred district-wide, impacting Gunn teachers and students as well.

Posted by kenneth Agle, a resident of Portola Valley
on May 11, 2009 at 11:09 am

There in no excuse for this! Have a crash? Go to yesterday's backup, or last week's backup, or, even, last month's (stored off site) backup if the first two fail - which they shouldn't.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 11, 2009 at 11:41 am

March 15th was the most recent useable backup. Here's the Paly paper's story.

Web Link

Posted by not there yet, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Everyone gets an A!!!! That would work......

Posted by Linda, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I agree with Mr. Agle, there is no excuse. With the amount of data and the importance of this data, there should be constant backup. How will the loss of grades and data affect graduating seniors? Many teachers are over worked as it is, now many will have to recreate their documents all over again. Simply because they trusted the system.....where have we heard that one before.

Posted by Ron, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on May 11, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Does this mean detention for the computer backup folks?

Posted by JustMe, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 11, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Kid: The dog ate my homework.
Teacher: The computer ate your homework.

Posted by Lol, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 11, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Yeah!Now I dont have C's and D's anymore!

Posted by techskeptic, a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2009 at 9:44 pm

I'm a teacher, and I have learned to always back up all of my own work: hard copies and two electronic copies stored in two different places. If you want something done right...

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 12, 2009 at 8:58 am

Techskeptic is right. In this day and age, with cheap memory sticks readily available, it's foolish to trust big systems.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 13, 2009 at 10:15 am

Missing from the article is any mention of who was managing this system and doing (or not doing) the backups. Was it someone from the software vendor? Was it a PAUSD employee? Was the system being managed by someone who was adequately trained? Anyone with basic experience in large systems and backups would have implemented a strategy to avoid or this kind of disaster and survive a failure with minimal loss, but a naive employee who was put in charge of this with no training might well have blundered.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2009 at 7:59 pm

I dreamed of this in high school.

Posted by Jordan/Paly parent, a resident of Ventura
on May 14, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I have to say that this investment in the InClass system has been a huge disappointment. All of the teachers were supposed to use it, but many did not, which made the thing unworkable (you never know who was going to have up-to-date info on InClass and who was not, and logging in is a pain in the rear, so I never did it), and now add to that having to back up your own work in case there is another crash will only make teachers less likely to use it. This is totally inexcusable - every corporate system in the country has daily backups off site. To have to go back to March 26th for the most recent usable back-up is ludicrous. This looks like another example of a vendor taking advantage of a school district's funds for a big system that they have no business running. This is outrageous.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2009 at 3:36 pm

There ought to be an investigation, at least. How much did this system cost the taxpayers?

Posted by Mike, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 14, 2009 at 4:57 pm

You made the point as to why teachers wouldn't use it in the first place with your description of logging in. The system is inefficient to use and prone to errors, that is why it is not used frequently by teachers. Not because of any kind of defiance.

Posted by Jordan/Paly parent, a resident of Ventura
on May 14, 2009 at 10:23 pm

I didn't mean to imply that there was any defiance on the teacher's part, and I assume logging in would be easier for them - it is just one additional thing they need to do - post the homework on the board, make handouts and put on InClass... But, as a parent I needed to have ready access to each kid's ID number and remember their passcodes to logon, so I rarely did it, particularly if I wasn't sure that there was anything there that was up-to-date. And honestly, you couldn't tell from looking whether there was something that hadn't been posted or whether there in fact wasn't anything new. I assume the system was expensive - I just wish the system had been better thought out and provided. It's truly a terrible shame.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 15, 2009 at 6:46 am

Hrm, how shall I put this. Oh yes, EPIC FAIL PAUSD.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 15, 2009 at 9:06 am

This is not the first big IT screwup at PAUSD. A few years ago some employees installed unsecured wireless access points. It was demonstrated that you could sit outside their buildings and get access to files that should have been private. I think they just don't have anybody who really knows what they are doing when it comes to this sort of thing, and they can't afford to pay what it takes to get one.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2009 at 10:56 am

Before you make the claim that PAUSD cannot afford to hire the right people to do the right thing, consider that backing up files and putting the media aside in a safe place until completing a subsequent backup on different media is so simple that anyone can do it.

More money is not the answer for everything. Maybe setting up a policy most of the civilized world works with and checking compliance occasionally is.

Posted by fireman, a resident of another community
on May 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Donald if the city pays so poorly, Why does it cost so much to run. Everyone things it the city pays TOO much?

Someone got paid very well, you can beat on that.

Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 15, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Fireman, I don't think the city pays for anything except lawn maintenance for the schools. They do that in exchange for having access to the fields for youth sports. The property taxes that pay for schools are collected by the state (or county?) and funneled back to the city. At least I have not heard of other city mechanisms for school funding.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 15, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I was talking about PAUSD, not the City. They are two completely separate entities. The school district hires people to teach and run the schools, and that is their top priority. For the wireless fiasco, they had someone set it up more or less as a volnteer effort. When you operate that way you get self-trained people who are not professionals in their field, and you get amateur results. I don't know who was running InClass because there has been absolutely no information about it. It could have been IT professionals who were incompetent, or it could have been competent education professionals who were assigned jobs outside their areas of expertise.

Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 15, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Oops, I forgot, they may also lease and use some school property.

Posted by I.T. SCREWED UP, a resident of Community Center
on May 16, 2009 at 6:17 am

It is an IT operations screwup. Plain and Simple.
If they cannot do it right - outsource to India. They can do this remotely - and automatically.

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