While notebooks and crayons may never go out of style, education officials are ready to throw out some old techniques and embrace the newly emerging world of technology.
Soon it will take only the click of a button on the computer for a teacher, administrator, parent or student to find out attendance, grades and test scores of one particular child or whole groups of students.
The Utah State Office of Education has awarded a contract to an Orem-based software company, DigitalBridge, to manage student information throughout Utah.
The five-year contract has yet to be signed but could cost approximately $6 million to $7.5 million. The state has the funding in place $4.5 million is from a federal grant while $3 million has been allocated through state legislation, according to education office officials.
DigitalBridge, an information-sharing technology company formed in October 2004, also provides secured data in other industries, such as health care and the justice system.
Utah's 40 school districts and 96 charter schools will have the
option of using DigitalBridge's program, called Student Achievement Management System.
Iron County School District was the first district to pilot the system in fall 2005. Iron District teachers gave DigitalBridge initial feedback on what educators wanted in using the data.
"I feel like we have moved light years in terms of looking at individual students," said Iron District Superintendent Jim Johnson.
He presented a report on his district's program during a recent meeting between members of the State Board of Education, State Board of Regents and legislators.
Thirteen districts in Utah have either contracted for or are already using the system. They are: Iron, Wasatch, Beaver, Cache, South Sanpete, Kane, Garfield, Provo, Duchesne, North Summit, South Summit, Rich and Daggett.
As a guinea pig, Iron District received its first year for free. It now pays $3 per student. District enrollment is approximately 9,000.
"The early adopters were given significant discounts," said Terry Pitts, president and CEO of DigitalBridge.
How much districts and charter schools would pay under the education office contract is still under negotiation, according to DigitalBridge officials.
Educators can use the data to drive instruction, said Patti Harrington, state superintendent of public instruction.
"It is a tremendously powerful tool," Harrington said.
With the management system, student records and transcripts can be moved from each school district to the State Office of Education, where officials can take care of federal test-reporting requirements all under one roof.
The data can also be transferred from district to district. For example, if a student moves to a new district, instead of searching for the manila file folder full of the student's records and then mailing it via "snail mail," school officials can simply send the information electronically.
"There is really no paperwork involved. You have instant access to it," Pitts said.
Education officials can find the data and put it into different forms. For example, they could make a graph showing attendance numbers, based on economic demographics, for northern Utah school districts.
"It allows us to examine data very closely and quickly," said Wasatch School District Superintendent Terry Shoemaker. The district is headed into its second year of using the program. It is paying $3 per student with an enrollment of approximately 4,500.
But how secure is this new system? In the 1980s movies "WarGames" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," teens hack into their school's computer system to increase their grades or decrease their absences.
When asked what would stop kids or others from pulling a similar stunt with DigitalBridge or just accessing records they shouldn't be viewing Pitts explained his company's security assurances.
The program requires a password and login. "Someone who is requesting the information has to be authenticated to the system," Pitts said. "We don't just send the information to anybody."
Parents, teachers, administrators and students have different rights to different portions of the data. For example, a principal may have access to personal demographics such as income levels, whereas a student or teacher may not.
"We have done everything that is now standardly available in the industry to encrypt the data and to make sure these records are not penetrated," Pitts said.
If by some chance security was breached, Pitts says DigitalBridge has an audit control so officials know who looked at the information, when and what they saw. "We have warnings that go off that our system has been violated," he said. "We have never had one (hacked into) yet."
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