Monday, January 15, 2001

Database to track all Ohio students

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Department of Education has started work on a database to track the state's 1.8 million students, keeping tabs on 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 extra help and what programs are effective. Student names will be kept private.

        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.

        “We'll be able to track a student's success in school by the teacher they had and the schools they've attended,” said Education Department spokeswoman Patti Grey. “We'll be able to really have accountability.”

        The state's current student records system compiles only aggregate information, leaving individual student records to the school districts.

        To comply with privacy laws, the new system will be run by a private third-party administrator which 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 still 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.

        “Once we start collecting the data and the system actually gets set up, there may be some objections. It's hard to say.”

        Former state Rep. Wayne Jones of Cuyahoga Falls said he opposes the plan because “the positive ways of using it are far less than the negatives.

        “You could use this to blackball kids. It just doesn't seem — if it falls into the wrong hands — to be a good use of taxpayers' dollars,” he said. “We have enough inva sions of privacy in our lives right now and we don't necessarily need more, especially for children.”

        Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed that the system raises concerns. He said once data that are kept locally are combined into a statewide system, it's easier to abuse.

        “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 say several other states have similar databases.


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