Share your experiences with new data system — for students’ sake

UFT Vice President for Special Education Carmen Alvarez (right) joins Vanderbilt Miller Photography

Help for struggling learners: UFT Vice President for Special Education Carmen Alvarez (right) joins Vanderbilt University’s Doug Fuchs and the UFT Teacher Center’s Evelyn Edwards on April 1 at the Bronx UFT office at the union’s kickoff meeting on Response to Intervention (RTI). The trio fielded questions from special education teachers about the content and scope of RTI. A second kickoff event took place at a Bronx location on April 14. An article about Response to Intervention will appear in a future issue of the New York Teacher.

They can’t help themselves. The Department of Education — and the city — that is. They just have to purchase complex technology without fully considering the needs of the end users. Think ARIS, I-Zone and CityTime. The latest is SESIS, short for Special Education Student Information System.

The basic function of SESIS is management of special education data. But, as most of you know, that is only half the story: SESIS is also the vehicle for rolling out the new state Individualized Education Program.

We concede that the Child Assistance Program (CAP) — the old system for tracking special education compliance — is beyond repair and we have been advocating for an electronic IEP (Individualized Education Program) for at least a decade. We knew there would be issues and inevitable glitches. But we never expected that the problems would be so numerous or so serious. We need to get this fixed — the sooner the better. This is where you come in.

Your responses to a survey approved by the Delegate Assembly in April will help us get a solid handle on all of the problems, issues and concerns with this system, so that we can press the DOE for practical and speedy solutions. We are particularly interested in issues specific to your discipline.

You know what’s working and what’s not working. You know the errors, omissions and inconsistencies. You know what professional development and support you need to help you fully understand what you are expected to do. And you know what’s needed in your school to make this new program a time saver instead of the time waster it currently is.

Listed below are some things we already know about from your emails and phone calls and are working to address.

The new IEP was rolled out before it had been fully vetted and approved by the state. One issue that immediately surfaced was that there was no place on the new IEP to indicate group size for related services. After complaining for almost a year, the programming change was finally completed in late March. We are now working on a practical and efficient solution for “fixing” thousands of IEPs that were developed before the change was made.

There is a similar problem with SETSS, which stands for Special Education Teacher Support Services. There is no place to designate the subjects in which the service will be delivered. We have received assurances that this too will soon be addressed.

Another major system failure is professional development. Two days of training for an average of two people in every school is inadequate by any measure. There was — and is — no viable plan for rolling out the information to the rest of the building. We have asked the DOE to issue a blueprint for professional development for all potential SESIS users. We woiuld like to see face-to-face sessions on school time or during paid per session by persons knowledgeable about the new IEP and SESIS. It also includes opportunities to practice using the program on hypothetical students.

We want the DOE to clearly say that “brown bag” sessions and webinars are supplemental and cannot be mandated during members’ duty-free lunch. Many of you have asked for a user-friendly reference manual and we have made that request as well.

If you have tried to reach the help desk, we don’t have to tell you what a disaster that is. Members routinely report waiting two to three hours to be connected only to end up speaking with someone who can’t answer their questions.

Many people are frustrated with the way the system tightly sequences tasks. You can’t start working on an IEP, for example, until the notice of an IEP meeting has been sent. We’re told it is not easy to “fix” errors. Members who work in multiple schools have to supply their Social Security number to their nonpayroll schools to get their names in Galaxy. CAP errors and “dirty data” mean staff are often stopped dead in their tracks when they try to work on assigned cases.

School-specific issues include access to necessary equipment and technology — computers, fax machines, printers and Internet access with adequate bandwidth. Depending on the time you are working on your IEPs, it can easily take a half-hour just to do the notice of IEP meeting and a couple of hours to draft an IEP.

Now that SESIS is “live” in almost all schools, more issues will undoubtedly surface. For your sanity and ours, it is imperative that issues be identified and addressed before the close of the school year.

Over the next several weeks, we will be sending out surveys seeking information about the rollout of SESIS and the new IEP. We ask you to share your experiences. In this data-driven world, we need hard evidence to back up our demands.

When you receive the online survey, please take a few minutes to complete it. The work you do is important to students and their families. It is important to us that you have the information and support you need to do it well.

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