Ohio officials are preparing to assign an identification number to each of the state’s 1.8 million public schoolchildren to improve student-data tracking and boost academic performance. But in spite of state assurances that student data will be protected by the most sophisticated security technology available, the new ID system worries the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which has asked the state for details on the plan.

The Ohio Department of Education says the Statewide Student Identifier System will be in place this coming school year. The state will use the system to study which programs are effective and which students need extra help, said department spokesman J.C. Benton.

Lawmakers approved the concept of the system two years ago when they overhauled the way the department collects data. The system also will help Ohio comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President Bush in January.

Last year, after lawmakers revamped Ohio’s proficiency-test systems, school districts began reporting test scores according to a child’s gender and race.

Although the state has received such information in summary form before, this will be the first time officials will have information on individual students, Benton said.

“Really, we’re not collecting anything more than we collect now when Joey starts the first day of kindergarten,” he said.

The department won’t have any personal information on students and will track them only by a number, Benton said.

The system requires schools to collect specific pieces of identifying information, including a student’s name, date of birth, place of birth, ethnicity, and gender. The information then is given to New York-based PwC Consulting, which assigns an identification number for each student.

The education department is paying the firm $1.25 million to manage the program. The company, a division of accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, will not receive any academic information about a child, according to state officials.

The system has “the most advanced security features available” for transmitting and storing information, Benton said.

Nevertheless, the ACLU of Ohio filed a public records request with the education department for all details about the project.

“We’re talking about the government collecting and collating vast amounts of information about students,” said Raymond Vasvari, ACLU legal director. “Once you start collecting data and putting [them] together in ways not generally available without doing the collecting, all sorts of questions arise.”

The school board in Akron, Ohio, decided to provide only the information required this year rather than include additional data—such as a student’s middle name and place of birth—which will be required next year.

“We felt this was information that had never been supplied about a child before, and the child would be able to be tracked,” said district spokeswoman Karen Ingraham. “We’re so sensitive to Ohio privacy laws regarding students, we just wanted to make sure the community did know information about their students would be in someone’s hands.”

Robert Rachor, who directs data collection and analysis for the Toledo, Ohio, city schools, told the Associated Press he supports the goals of the new ID program and believes the proper privacy protection is in place.

“My concern is there is so much data being collected on kids that I worry about the accuracy of the data,” he said. “People don’t have time to check it all.”

Other states are creating similar reporting systems. In Iowa, education officials last month predicted they would need a similar identification number.

Michigan is creating the Michigan Education Information System, although some districts have complained about the time and money they’re spending on the project.

Related links:
Ohio Department of Education
http://www.ode.state.oh.us

ACLU of Ohio
http://www.acluohio.org

No Child Left Behind
http://www.nochildleftbehind.gov