Raising The Grade-Keeping track of students information

Thursday, August 26th 2004, 10:09 am
By: News On 6

Keeping track of students is becoming a top priority for the state Department of Education. One they're investing more than $6-million to achieve. But is the money worth it?

In this Raising The Grade report, News on 6 anchor Terry Hood shows how tracking is working in other states.

You might call some folks at Tulsa Union Public School's information gatekeepers. Attendance, student body characteristics, contact information, you name it, and they collect it, sort it and double-check it. In the past that information might have been stuck in a file, but this is the electronic age.

Jackie White, Union Pupil Accounting Director: "they do not have to go to paper any longer or go to a counselors office and get a file." It's all here, in SASI or Schools Administrative Student Information system. With a unique identification number, everything from a student's attendance records to test scores is available at the click of a button.

Starting in 2005, a similar tracking system will go statewide. "With the statewide system, when that student arrives in our district and we can log-in using a statewide ID number we'll get information faster and that allows us to provide services for that student."

25 states across the nation have student information systems, and they don't come cheap. Oklahoma plans to spend about $6.5-million over the next five years to get the new system up and running. That’s about what Mississippi has spent. Arizona's price tag, about $12-million. But the costs don't end there.

Just like your home PC needs regular upgrades, so do statewide tracking systems, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the budget. Then there are maintenance costs and thousands of dollars worth of training for every school district in the state. Each one will have their choice of several software programs that will feed into the state system.

The Arizona Republic called its state's system quote "slow and prone to error" partially because there's too many software programs at the local level. Arizona educators say the system is 95% accurate, but they do agree multiple programs are quote "expensive and inefficient."

Oklahoma leaders say all of the software programs will have to be compatible. As the folks at Union Public Schools can tell you, every system has its quirks. "Have we had issues sure but anyone in the technology world knows it will happen but you quickly fix it and you go forth." And like many high tech converts, they've learned to love the system. Now, they don't know how they did without it.

State education leaders say the new tracking system will also help fulfill the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It requires testing data to be broken down by race and socio-economic groups. With the new system, the data can be sorted easily at the click of a button.