COLUMBUS - The state is preparing to assign an identification number to each of Ohio's 1.8 million public schoolchildren to help track and improve academic performance.
The proposal concerns the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which has asked the state for details on the plan.
The Department of Education says the Statewide Student Identifier System will be in place for the upcoming school year. The state will use the system to study which programs are effective and which students need extra help, said department spokesman J.C. Benton.
Lawmakers approved the concept of the system two years ago when they overhauled the way the department collects data. The system will also help Ohio comply with the education bill signed by President Bush in January.
Last year, districts started reporting proficiency test scores based on a child's gender and race after lawmakers revamped Ohio's proficiency test systems.
Although the state has received such information in summary form before, this will be the first time it will have information on individual students, Mr. Benton said. "Really, we're not collecting anything more than we collect now when Joey starts the first day of kindergarten," he said.
The department won't have any personal information on students and will track them only by a number.
The system requires schools to collect eight pieces of identifying information, including a student's name, date of birth, place of birth, ethnicity, and gender. The information is given to New York-based PwC Consulting, which then assigns an identification number for each student.
The education department is paying the firm $1.25 million to manage the program. The company, a division of accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, will not receive any academic information about a child.
The system has "the most advanced security features available" for transmitting and storing information, Mr. Benton said.
Nevertheless, the ACLU of Ohio filed a public records request with the education department for all details about the project.
"We're talking about the government collecting and collating vast amount of information about students," said Raymond Vasvari, ACLU legal director. "Once you start collecting data and putting it together in ways not generally available without doing the collecting, all sorts of questions arise."
Akron city's school board decided to provide only the information required this year rather than include additional data - such as a student's middle name and place of birth - which will be required next year.
Robert Rachor, who directs Toledo city schools' data collection and analysis, said he supports the system's goals and believes the proper privacy protection is in place.
"My concern is there is so much data being collected on kids that I worry about the accuracy of the data," he said. "People don't have time to check it all."
Other states are creating such reporting systems.
In Iowa, education officials last month predicted they would need a similar identification number.
Michigan is creating the Michigan Education Information System, although some districts have complained about the time and money they're spending on the project.