The Ohio Department of Education has started work on a database designed to track the state’s 1.8 million students, monitoring facts ranging from attendance to discipline to reading proficiency.
The department said its Statewide Student Identifier System will allow it to monitor academic performance and student mobility more closely, making it easier to see which students need more help and what programs are effective.
Student names will be kept private. Even so, some critics oppose the plan, citing concerns about the privacy of information.
“You could use this [system] to blackball kids. It just doesn’t seem … to be a good use of taxpayers’ dollars,” said former state Rep. Wayne Jones of Cuyahoga Falls. “We have enough invasions of privacy in our lives right now, and we don’t necessarily need more–especially for children.”
Supporters of the project say the database, which will include information from 3,600 schools in 700 districts, also will make district report cards and other accountability reports more accurate. The system could cost as much as $1.5 million to design and install.
“Right now, we can’t follow students’ progress in school by the schools they’ve attended and the teachers they’ve had,” said Education Department spokeswoman Patti Grey. “A student identification system would allow us to track a student’s entire education. … We’ll be able to really have accountability.”
Ohio’s current student records system compiles only aggregate information, leaving individual student records to the school districts.
Department officials believe the ability to look at the schools students have attended and the teachers they’ve had will allow educators to compile data on whether specific groups are not receiving the proper instruction.
“We want to hold adults, as well as kids, responsible,” said Grey, who said the state Department of Education hopes to be able to track the teacher colleges from which certain educators have graduated and use that information to evaluate whether those institutions are falling behind in preparing future teachers in certain areas.
The system also might help the state track the effect of student mobility.
“Right now, the third-grade curriculum may, in fact, be very different in one place than another. With the tracking system, we [will be able to] see on a statewide level if standards are being attained,” said Grey. “We think right now that one factor to lack of success may be mobility, but we have no data to support that.”
The student information system also could help the state collect aggregated information on students based on race, ethnicity, and gender.
“We want to be a truly data-driven system,” said Grey. “This way, we don’t have to wait and see if a student needs intervention to get [him] on the right track. We can actually anticipate that a child might need intervention before [he gets] to that level of frustration.”
To comply with privacy laws, the new system will be run by a private, third-party administrator who will assign each student an identification number to replace names and Social Security numbers.
Any information identifying the student will be stripped out of the database before it is turned over to the state.
“We want to be sensitive to the fact that, [while] we want to know what a student did, we don’t want to know the student’s name,” said Paul Marshall, the Education Department’s government relations director.
But not everyone agrees that tracking student information will be beneficial to Ohio schoolchildren.
Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the system raises concerns. Once data that is kept locally is combined into a statewide system, it is easier to abuse, he said.
“The point is, you have now a massive database and it exists in a world where there are lots of other massive databases,” he said. “One of the first steps toward the erosion of privacy is collecting data into large databases in which you can use common identifiers to sort people out.”
Advocates of the system say several other states–including Texas, North Carolina, and Florida–have similar databases. They say critics are overstating the privacy threat.
“There is a potential for any system to be hacked,” Marshall said. “The question is: Why is somebody going to get in there?”
Ohio Department of Education