Technology can have a huge, positive impact on managing the growing load of student records. But district leaders need to prepare carefully before digitizing all that paper.
Some years ago, I spent time among rows of shelves and boxes in a large urban school district’s records archive, housed in the basement of a district office building. By all appearances, “organized chaos” would be a fair description for the ad hoc archiving and records-retrieval system.
Most schools and districts have such a space, crammed with shelves, filing cabinets and boxes, all storing legacy district and student records that can’t legally be disposed of due to state record retention laws.
For larger and older school districts, the amount of space needed to house these physical records is daunting. Given that most school districts don’t have trained archivists on staff, the organization of the records so they can be accessed and retrieved is challenging, to put it mildly.
Fortunately, school districts are adopting online student information systems, which means that much of the student record data they now gather is in digital format, reducing some of the need for archival paper storage. However, a substantial number of paper documents are still being generated by districts that fall under state record retention laws. So, one step forward, one step back is the norm.
Recognizing that maintaining such physical records storage will only lead to further headaches, some districts have undertaken record digitization projects. A recent article on the Waukegan, Ill., District 60’s scanning and digitization project offers one district’s solution to the problem. They hired an outside contractor to come onsite and tackle the project, leaving the district with a system for accessing their digitized files.
Portland Public Schools in Oregon is going another route. They’re in the midst of a district-run project with an assembled team of scanning technicians who are systematically working through boxes of cumulative student files. Once scanned, the documents are housed and organized in the district’s records management system built by DocuWare, a document management software firm. Portland school office staff are also being trained to scan all new incoming paper documents into the system, ensuring their paper storage issues won’t return.
For districts contemplating such a project, some initial topics and questions for consideration should include:
Conducting a records scanning and digitization project is a major undertaking for a school district. But the return on investment can be substantial: Freed up storage space, reduced staff time in tracking down years-old student transcripts and district financial records, and overall record management efficiencies.