Keeping track

May 22, 2007

Baltimore school officials are threatening more than 100 principals with disciplinary action, including possible termination, if their schools fail to keep adequate and accurate records for each of their students. City schools CEO Charlene Cooper Boston has certainly taken a hard stance, but faulty records should not be tolerated and the buck stops at the principal's office.

Records are important to keep track of students and to gauge their progress. Maintaining up-to-date and accurate records, while admittedly a challenge for an urban district with many transient students, is a critical measure of how the system is managing itself. Consistent with state regulations, Baltimore's student record cards are supposed to keep track of information ranging from basic identification to attendance, academic credits and health status.

The recent crackdown is in response to two state audits that found incomplete and missing records to be all too common in city schools. Auditors reported in January that they could not be sure what happened to 21 percent of Baltimore's special-education students who had dropped out of school by the 11th grade. Keeping these records up to date is especially crucial because of the long-running lawsuit that requires the system to provide certain services to disabled students.

Missing health records among 1,300 general education students were also cited as a problem in an April 2005 audit. That audit was in response to a 2004 scandal that saw hundreds of students who attended Walbrook Uniform Services Academy graduate or be promoted to the next grade without completing all their academic requirements. Those lapses were unacceptable and led to increased scrutiny. Yet this year, the system's difficulty verifying the immunization status of many students also pointed to lapses in student records.

Increased use of computers and less reliance on paper records would certainly help. But the important thing is to keep correct, up-to-date information in any form. Many principals agree with the goal, and say their records fall short by only a handful of students. But given the school system's history, Ms. Boston is right to make improved recordkeeping a priority for which principals should be held accountable.

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