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Time for a National Student Tracking System


The 53,000 students who disappeared from the Louisiana public school system following hurricanes Katrina and Rita highlight the need for an information system that monitors the academic progress of students across the country, John F. Pane argues in this Education Week Commentary.

Pane believes implementing a national tracking system would not only help in response to natural disasters, but just as importantly lend information to better understand graduation rates, achievement gaps, and school improvement. Such a system should include and protect the records of all U.S. students and be accessible to educators with a legitimate need.

What do you think? Should there be a national system for sharing student information?


Yes!! I've been saying that for years. As a former special education teacher, I frequently experienced children admitted into the school who had previously been diagnosed as qualifying for special education modifications, but we did not receive the transfer information until months after the child was admitted.
Additionallly, once children are admitted, they transfer around from class to class and distributing paper modifications can be cumbersome, and delayed. It would be great if there was a national data base that teachers could access when a child enters the classroom providing invaluable data for instruction.

A National record would be advantageous for information sharing, tracking progress, and better understanding the scope of achievement across the US. Unfortunately, there is no such database in existence in the US that records any one group or cohort of Americans. Few, if any, states have such data collection and sharing systems. Even the US Census bureau has been unable to create such a network. Central records centers within individual states would be a bit more feaseable and located these central records in sfae areas, i.e. out of flood and hurricaine prone areas, would be helpful. Electronic transfer of records could speed up the information sharing between states and schools. There is still no certain means in use today to assure that a perticular student transferring into a school district is the actual person they, or their parents say they are. The national record system sounds great. There is no model for it and it is probably not a realistic oncept.

How can the National be successful in keeping student tracked when they cannot keep the
veterans informatin safe?

There is no compelling state interest for having a consolidated national education ID system. As a matter of protecting personal privacy, we should not endorse such a system. We don't need a single source with "all" students' information stored there. The challenges we have don't require that sort of precision. If "better data" showed our dropout rate was 31% instead of 39%, so what? It should be 3% - and the data we currently have clearly shows it is not.

What we should advocate is a standardized definition of educational data, and the ability for an individual student's records to be securely provided to the student and his/her parents or guardians, for delivery to the next school system. This protects individual privacy and promotes voluntary sharing of information. School-level information should be organized in a standard way, and schools should use good business practices to manage it, including back-ups stored off-site for recovery in the case of a disaster. By standardizing the data elements, businesses could compete to develop and offer applications that meet individual schools' needs, without becoming cost-prohibitive.

Think Turbo-Tax on the web, where standardized data is gathered, reported, and stored by individual, but never combined or aggregated. There is a successful model for this kind of internet-enabled private information management.

In an earlier thread, Ms. Cooke, makes a very good point, that there is no real "compelling" interest to actaully justify a national system of record keeping. There are issues of confidentialiaty that would have to be addressed. Like medical records, school records are not public records, to be shared with just anyone. Students and their families are entitled to a safe, secure system that dekivers transcripts from one school to another in an expiditious fashion. This information should not be available on a national scale and there is no program that contains a similar volume of information on a national scale. Even the I.R.S. with its' legions of data entry and retrieval people, relies on some voluntary information from the individual taxpayer and does not have control, as in information, over all workers in the U.S. The next step in any such program would be a subcutaneous computer chip that is regularly updated with grades and activities. It has, so far, proved impossible to get such a program completely set up for even pets. How much more challenging, and expensive, would be a national program for all students.

I may almost become a believer in biblical predictions :) National, computerized data systems, now even suggested for student records, may ultimately lead to a chip in all of us, the mark of the beast.

Good point, C.J.! There are a great many "national registry" scenarios in the works that make it seem that "Big Brother" is closing in. In truth, no system is currently feaseable. The cost of such a record keeping system would make it impractical and there is always the danger of someone hacking the system for illicit purposes. a simple transcript with backup copies would effectively serve the same purpose and would only require local record keeping. It is unlikely that a national standard for grade and class data could be achieved as there are no national standards. The process could be speeded up allowing for faster transfers of records, but a central holding area seems rather useless.

What is it we really want to know? If it is information about the effectiveness of resources allocated to education efforts - graduation rates are likely a poor measure. I concur that some broad agreement on what success looks like is an important first step.

Unfortunately, educational reform has become a number game. The goal of federal and state mandates is to quantify the quality of our nation's education. The idea of a national data base with individual student identifiers is yet another technology driven quantification of what is really a matter of real life educational quality. It is only necessary to track students when individual schools are held "accountable" for students that leave. Schools and school systems should not and cannot be realistically held responsible for students that leave and do not return. In reality, it is not important whether the missing student has transferred or simply dissappeared. It is a matter for individual communities and states when a student becomes a truant, but that is a matter for law enforcement, not the school. All any school can really do is report when and for how long a student has been away from the school. no one district or school is similar enough to another to use the dropout or transfer data as an indicator of success or achievement.

The wheel is being reinvented once again. And, as reinventions go, the result will be a square wheel: forget your destination as your brains will be bounced loose on the journey.
The next to last paragraph indicates what Mr. Berry suggests be looked at in a comprehensive system to measure teacher effectiveness. And you know what, I don't care where teachers come from, where they started to teach or where they are now teaching.
I do care what students need to know and how the college educator will train future teachers to analyze needs of kids, teach what it is that has been determined kids need to know, evaluate what has been taught and what they need to do to remain positive throughout the process. The university before granting a teaching credential also needs to determine what it is the teacher is being trained to teach and to ensure that the level of knowledge of the prospective teacher in his/her field of choice is exceptional. If not, remediate until it is.
Once again, I see in this article the state officers of education, the college presidents, the college and university this and that but where are the teachers and school principals? Where are the people on the line every day of their lives? Ask them what is needed to change the education of teachers and maybe the wheel will appear to be round once again.
Steven C. Appelbaum

Apologies for response noted above ending up in the wrong place.

I believe the NEA legal department would have some positive feedback on this topic as they usually are. Bob F is correct when he says tracking youngsters is a difficult job. Transient students should probably be an additional cohort of at-risk youngsters to identify for NCLB.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Paul Hoss: I believe the NEA legal department would have some positive read more
  • Steven C. Appelbaum: Apologies for response noted above ending up in the wrong read more
  • Steven C. Appelbaum, Principal Emeritus: The wheel is being reinvented once again. And, as reinventions read more
  • Bob Frangione: Unfortunately, educational reform has become a number game. The goal read more
  • Pat Shier: What is it we really want to know? If it read more




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