- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Department of Education is disputing $1.6 million in charges from a Minnesota company over a software system that repeatedly failed during mandatory statewide elementary school testing.

Tension has been building between the department and Minnesota-based TIES (Technology and Information Educational Services) agency officials as they scrambled to restore confidence in the agency’s software system that made Iowa extend its fall testing window, according to department emails reviewed by the Des Moines Register (https://dmreg.co/2h6EgQ7 ).

A 2014 audit found that TIES faced scrutiny before, mismanaging millions of dollars and running a deficit of almost $2.8 million through June of that year.

Invoices from Sept. 29 show ongoing financial disputes. The state has paid about $551,000 of the nearly $2.2 million billed by TIES, and is withholding $930,000 until screenings for winter and spring are successful.

The department also is challenging $150,000 for moving reports to an older platform the system had previously used.

“Since TIES has chosen to change platforms three times in three years - and we are back to the first display platform we used three years ago - we do not believe this is a cost the department should incur,” the invoice said.

TIES executive director Mark Wolak said the company stands by its software’s performance and is focused on ensuring it fixes the issues, but he won’t overwork staff to the point of team morale being threatened.

“I won’t be asking the team to be working weekends unless we have something critical,” TIES director of software solutions John Cavalieri said. “Not everything is critical.”

The testing window for the next statewide reading exam, administered through the software system, begins Jan. 16.

A $180,000 technical audit to determine how the department plans to handle the software’s issues is expected to be completed by early January.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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