The New Hampshire Department of Education is building a universal student database that will match demographic information with standardized test scores to track students' individual performance and number of dropouts over time.

All students are assigned confidential identification numbers, and will keep those numbers throughout their years in New Hampshire schools.

Six districts -- Concord, Oyster River, Manchester, Nashua, Rochester and Contoocook Valley -- are involved in the pilot. The remaining districts are expected to join next year. The database, however, will not be accessible for another two to three years.

New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Nick Donohue said the department recognized the need for the system years ago and decided to go forward with it more than a year ago.

"We need to track students to shore up data about dropouts and know better how we are doing. Average is inadequate, disaggregated groups is better, but individual gains are what we are trying to discern," he said.

Donohue said the database will help student performance through better tracking of pupil trends, and by obtaining deeper data about specific skill and knowledge attainment.

Other states said looking at the individual student-level data submitted by school districts should significantly improve data accuracy and quality, said Michael Schwartz, the department's IT consultant.

Disappearing Act

The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies reported in February 2004 that the state loses track of 1,000 of its 200,000 students each year. Since the new database will use a single identification number to track a student throughout his or her years in any New Hampshire school, counting dropouts will be easier.

Should a student leave New Hampshire and enroll in school in another state, Schwartz said the department will follow up to find out why the student disappeared from the New Hampshire system.

"If it's determined they've moved out of state, then we will have an exit status for that ID that indicates the individual has moved out of state," he said. "If the person re-enters a year later, six months later or three years later, then the school sends another submission to us indicating that student is now re-enrolled in a school in New Hampshire."

The universal database tracks performance, race, sex, English proficiency and disability, all of which will enable more detailed analysis of a student's history -- and hopefully lower the dropout rate by improving education.

"This whole initiative is focused on that long-term goal of how we can get the information back into the hands of teachers and administrators so they can improve education for each student," Schwartz said. "Teachers can go in and look at their sixth-grade class, and understand how those students did in their class performance or assessment tests in prior years, and their attendance rates."

The system alerts teachers to what they should consider in helping set the curriculum and improving those students' results. For example, teachers could see students having difficulty with geometry or other mathematical concepts, and use that information to better tailor and target the education.

Because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, New Hampshire will begin testing children more often, which the database will record. This will help schools pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses.

In-House Operation

The Department of Education will set up the system so schools can submit data directly to the district, and then exchange the data among themselves, Schwartz said.

"First the school district gives us some demographic information -- name and date of birth, for example -- we can send back the unique student ID, and then submissions during the year where they'll send the unique student ID with a variety of information, whether it's about who's enrolled in their school, how

Jessica Jones  |  Managing Editor