By The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The state Department of Education is threatening to cancel the remainder of a $13.9 million contract with IBM after repeated failures in the statewide student tracking system the company created to help California comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

IBM was hired to create the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, which is designed to collect information about each of the state’s 6.2 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade and track their academic progress.

“Despite IBM’s assurances, expertise and vast resources, the CALPADS project continues to slip further and further behind the schedule specified by the contract,” Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Zeiger wrote IBM in a letter this month.

The first phase of CALPADS was launched in August 2009 and the project was supposed to be completed a year ago.

IBM acknowledged receiving the letter but said only that it would submit a “corrective action plan” by the state’s Friday deadline.

The company said in a statement that it is reviewing the complaints outlined in the letter “and will continue to work in partnership with CDE to meet the ambitious scope of this project.”

“CALPADS currently is operational and California school districts are successfully using it to submit information that is vital to tracking the progress of the state’s students,” the company said. “The project is in its final phase and we are on track to deliver remaining system functionality by the end of this school year.”

Until recently, the state had no way to link the reams of information it collects about students, from their ethnicity and poverty status to their scores on the high school exit exam. The gap left officials with no way to gauge the answer to such basic questions as whether special programs have helped third-graders improve their reading ability or how many students drop out and where they go.

It also put California at odds with the 2001 federal education law that requires states to measure the progress of individual students over time, rather than groups of students in a classroom or school. The lagging data system was among the issues cited by the Obama administration last year when California lost out on millions of dollars in education grants.

The state also is working on a data system that it hopes will link student performance to individual teachers.

Department spokesman Paul Hefner says IBM has been paid about $7 million and completed about half the work. The total budget to set up a data tracking system is about $61 million.

Zeiger said in his letter that because of the repeated delays, the department is entitled to end its contract with IBM, find another vendor and charge IBM for any excess costs. He gave the company 15 days to respond.

Frustrated over delays in the project, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year vetoed $6.8 million for Department of Education oversight of the project. Hefner said that did not affect IBM’s work.

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