Monday, January 1, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, January 1, 2001

Special ed computer system may literally pay off

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

A computer system designed to ease compliance with a special education mandate could end up making money for the state Department of Education.

"This shows us that folks in the department are doing ... cutting-edge work," said State Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu.

Advertiser library photo • Oct. 19, 2000

The Web-based system, dubbed ISPED, for Interactive Special Education, was designed by department employees to handle the myriad forms, reports and paperwork required to document the progress of each special education student. They hope the system will drastically reduce the time spent on paperwork for the so-called Felix consent decree.

The ruling has had the state education system under federal court supervision since it was found in 1994 to be failing children with special education needs. The decree is named for a special-needs student who sued the state.

State Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said the California company developing the $1.5 million system has been approached by at least two states and two large school districts interested in buying it. He recently signed a deal that allows the company, Spectria, to market ISPED and its spinoffs in return for a share of any sales.

In return, the department will receive 40 percent of all gross proceeds.

"Once they get the bugs worked out it’s going to be a great system," said Noel Richardson, the student services coordinator at Ilima Intermediate who has worked extensively with ISPED.

It will still be some time, however, before ISPED is up and running in Hawaii. According to a deadline set by a federal judge, it should have been operational by August. But when the department tried to roll out the system, teachers experienced so many problems, it had to go back to the drawing board.

The department will test it again this year and hopes to have it working by June.

ISPED promises to tackle one of the biggest problems facing special education teachers: stacks of paperwork. Department experts estimate ISPED will cut that by as much as 85 percent.

It also will standardize data across the state and generate reports so principals can track changes in referrals or discipline rates.

It can electronically link all the professionals on a student’s "team," making it easier to request services or arrange meetings. It’s hoped parents will be able to link into the system in the future.

Because the system is accessible through the Internet, everyone on a team will be able to pull up a student’s file wherever there is an Internet connection.

While that will give teachers greater flexibility, Richardson said it raises questions about security.

"It’s a Web-based system, which means everybody in the world can get to it," he said. "I believe any system can be hacked, if the incentive is there to hack it."

However, DOE information specialist Gilbert Chun said the department is confident the system will be secure with individual passwords and varying levels of access.

Another roadblock to ISPED’s implementation is training, said Joan Husted, deputy executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

The department held training sessions, but the system was being changed on a daily basis, which led to growing frustration, Husted said.

LeMahieu said the failures were due to the department’s rush to meet the court deadline. However, an external review has found the system "to be a very good one" and he’s confident it will do all it promises.

LeMahieu said it would be too speculative to estimate how much the deal with Spectria could earn for Hawaii. A sale to one state could bring in about $800,000, of which Hawaii’s share would be $320,000.

"I think what’s important for me is that this shows us that folks in the department are doing this kind of cutting-edge work," LeMahieu said. "We got an idea and developed a concept on something that has considerable value in the market."

He plans to use the money to encourage more entrepreneurial work in the department.

"It’s time that we sent signals that we value this kind of work," he said.

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