How $43 Million New Funding for Education Data Systems will Improve Special Needs Students’ Learning


There are just under 1.1 million students enrolled in the NYC school system, making it the largest school system in the United States. Of these students, more than 200,000 of them are eligible for special education, as indicated by having an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Up until now, tracking and evaluating these students has been the responsibility of the city’s Special Education Student Information System (SESIS). However, since the system was first unrolled in 2011, it’s fallen far short of its expected impact.

SESIS was originally intended as a replacement for a previous system known as the Child Assistance Program (CAP), which was finally phased out in 2013. Developed by the NYC Department of Education (DOE), CAP was a data system designed to track special education referrals and document the specific services each student was supposed to receive. However, a major limitation of the system was an inability to track and document the actual delivery of these services. Without efficient tracking, the DOE could not claim federal reimbursement covered under Medicaid.

SESIS was supposed to fix this issue and the DOE invested over $130 million in the project to ensure it could do so. Unfortunately, this has not happened, with actual reimbursements having fallen short of the city’s projections by a total of $373 million between 2012-2015. The cause was inaccurate data due to a poorly designed system that had numerous technical difficulties. Data was regularly lost from technical glitches and had to be reentered. Compensation had to be handed out to a teacher’s union because the system was so slow and logjammed that overtime had to be put in to log the data. Another issue was that SESIS was found to be incompatible with other city databases, forcing city officials to cross-reference data from different systems manually.

A Fresh Start with a Custom-Made System

A new system to replace SESIS is now in the planning phase. Entirely custom-built, the new system has been contracted with a Milwaukee-based company called Experis. The hope is that the new system can be tailored to fit NYC’s complex education system far better than an out-of-the-box program. Once online, it will be fully owned by the city, meaning there won’t be any pesky ongoing licensing fees to pay. Changes can be made as needed while all data will be fully integrated. This will allow for easy tracking and referencing to ensure every student gets the services they are entitled to and that the city receives all its entitled reimbursement payments.

More accurate data collection will also mean city officials can respond faster. In many cases, the fact that some special needs children are not getting all the services they're entitled to is due to understaffing and not knowing where extra resources are needed. With the new system, there should be fewer cases of students not getting their required therapies or receiving the wrong ones.

But it goes even further than that too. Included will be a parent-facing portal allowing families to monitor, communicate, and stay in the loop about the services their child is receiving. This will be based on real-time data analytics that can be checked at any time. It’s a huge oversight tool that should allow parents and guardians to advocate on their child’s behalf and understand exactly where they are in their development. For educators and school administrators, it’s a way to see what lessons are having an impact and where extra resources are needed.

There are, naturally, some reservations about the new system. The transition period will be a major undertaking and it might be overly optimistic to say it won’t be without any glitches or delays, at least from the start anyway. It took many educators 2-3 years to fully understand how to use SESIS due to its poor design and maze-like structure. It is hoped that the new system will be far easier and more intuitive to navigate but it’s too early to say what exactly it will be like. In short, nobody expects the new system to be perfect, but we can certainly be confident of it being far better than what came before.

Using Technology to Make Learning Easier

NYC has taken a huge step in seeking to overhaul its entire education data system. It's a big undertaking, but considering the unique challenges they are facing, a custom-designed approach was clearly needed. Other school districts that are facing their own problems could benefit from taking a similar approach.

For individual schools seeking a simpler and more cost-effective solution, Kinems platform offers an alternative. Designed for use in PreK-5 classrooms, Kinems software allows students to learn through multisensory educational games, while also providing real-time data analytics and progress reports. It’s a fast and easy solution for educators and school administrators looking for a better way to assist students in achieving their goals.

Final Thoughts

Whatever approach a school decides to take, the key thing is to ensure that they can properly track and monitor each student to ensure they are getting all the help they need. Technology can provide the answer, but it’s up to each school to determine for themselves

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