Nearly one-third of Georgia's 1.8 million students enter or leave the state every year, often during the school year. But their academic records don't always follow them in a timely fashion, which leaves their new districts in a bind.
Districts want to place students in a class that's appropriate for their learning level and get them remedial instruction as needed. And parents don't have the information they can use to make accurate decisions -- only the school district does.
Even when parents file a record exchange form, the district they're transferring from may take months to send a paper file over called a cumulative file — if administrators send the file at all. Meanwhile, districts have to do the best they can without student records.
"It's so hard right now when children move across the state boundaries to get their records," said Bob Swiggum, CIO of the Georgia Department of Education. "It really falls back onto the district that they came from to have a good record keeping system."
Georgia solved this problem in state by putting student records in a longitudinal data system. But now Georgia school districts want to access records outside of their state -- and the Education Department has listened.
To that end, a digital record exchange system is in the pilot phase at the district and state level in Georgia, and at the state level in North Carolina. And its goal is to make the exchange process faster and easier across state lines so students can learn at their level.
North Carolina joined the pilot because, "it seemed to us to be the direction in which we were going, and we just wanted to be on the cutting edge and have input into how this was done," said Karl Pond, enterprise data manager in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
No other group of states is working on a system to exchange records, though a few are creating systems to find out if dropouts showed up in another state. And while some of those groups are using vendors, Georgia used a federal grant to build the record system from scratch for states to use.
Here's how it works.
Because the U.S. Education Department has provided grants for longitudinal data systems, most states have systems that house student data over time -- these systems just need to be able to talk to each other.
That's where a set of record exchange utilities comes in. This utility allows a database in one state to call a database in another state. But no data is stored during the conversation.
Only certified people in each district can search for student records through this utility. For example, a registrar at every school would have access. If the student's new teacher wanted access, that person would need to go in the counselor's office and look up the record under supervision.
In Georgia, a district administrator can access the record exchange through a series of links in the district student information system and the state's longitudinal data system. A query for a student's name and date of birth will pull up the student record in whatever state database it exists. Then the administrator can download that record and export it into a CSV file.
One of the key components of this project is that school districts requested a way to address the record exchange problem. It wasn't a top-down mandate, and this approach has served Georgia well in other longitudinal data system projects, said Jesse Peavy, technology coordinator of Bleckley County Schools.
"Once the word got out that you could do this, guess what people started doing?" Peavy asked. "'I want that, I want that.'"
Eventually, Georgia would like to turn administration of this record exchange over to an organization such as the Council of Chief State School Officers. Once states go through an authorization process and sign a memorandum of understanding, their school districts are free to search records in other states. And that could solve some of the major problems with the record exchange process.