Expert Viewpoint

Going Digital with Student Records

3 Reasons Why the Time is Now

Tasks such as processing student enrollment forms, responding to requests for student transcripts, and managing applications for choice programs are all necessary functions for any school district. And, although digital learning is positioned to become the new normal in classrooms across the country, when it comes to records management, many K–12 school districts are still using microfiche, paper, and PDFs.

For districts still managing and processing student records in a paper-based format, it might be time to look toward technology to help efficiently and securely manage student records. Check out how digital student records can make administrators' (and families') lives easier.

  1. Greater accessibility to records for families and graduates. A national pandemic and approximately 85% of Americans owning a smartphone (according to Pew Research) helped many districts look for web-based options for families to submit their child’s registration forms, enrollment applications, alumni or third party requests for transcripts, etc. Moving these tasks online makes it easier for families and alumni to complete, especially those working non-traditional shifts or in jobs further from home. Also, by housing records digitally, it can make it faster for other districts or alumni to request records whether they are moving to a different district or looking for graduation transcripts. And some online systems allow students, alumni, and third parties to pay for records such as transcripts online, which can offset the cost of a digital system for some.

    Tips for Implementing: when switching to a digital records management system, make sure the system is mobile-friendly and can communicate to families and community members how to use it. Districts can use their most effective communication channels — whether it’s through their website, sending e-blasts, sending fliers home with students, demonstrating the system at back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences, or all of the above — to make families aware of the system and how to use it.
  1. Easier workload for staff. Tracking down paper records can be time-consuming for district staff members because documents can be spread out within a building, or across multiple sites like schools, centralized district offices, and warehouses, making it difficult for staff to quickly access them. Many states have regulations about turnaround times for records requests, which can be hard to meet, even when papers are in one central location. A digital records management system can allow personnel to quickly see who does and who does not have all paperwork in. This can allow them to send reminders to families who may be missing documents, and can help with school lotteries by both timestamping when materials were received and, with the right technology, conducting timely randomized selections for open spots in sought-after schools.

    Tips for Implementing: Any digital records management system needs to work seamlessly with other systems you already have in place. Integrating with an existing student information system (SIS), for instance, is a necessity. System training for staff on both how to use a system and how to use data for making informed decisions is important to have.
  1. More Secure Data. There is an ongoing risk that catastrophic events or natural disasters, including fires, floods, and extreme weather conditions, can lead to the destruction of physical records and documents. Secondly, there’s the ever-increasing risk of cyber-attacks, especially since the shift to using more digital content in classrooms.

  • Since 2016, there have been 1,331 cyber incidents publicly disclosed by U.S. schools and districts. Averaged over the last six years, that equates to a rate of more than one incident per school day (K12 Security Information eXchange 2022 Annual Report).

    In 2020, there was a record-breaking number of publicly reported cybersecurity incidents — “408 across 377 school districts in 40 states” or “a rate of more than two incidents per school day throughout 2020”.
  • Microsoft Security Intelligence found that 79.92% of over 6.3 million malware encounters reported came from the education sector, making it the most affected industry by far.

    Moving to a digital records management system can solve the issue of records being destroyed through natural means of others, but ensuring digital data is secure takes another level of stewardship. A digital records management system will allow a district to select authorized users to have access to the data and the system will provide an audit trail giving districts information on who accessed a record should an issue arise.

    Tips for Implementing: By making sure your digital records management system is FERPA- and CJIS-compliant and understanding where the digital data is stored and the type of encryption used, districts can ensure their student data is as secure as possible. Also, districts should ensure their provider has an incident response plan in case of a cyberattack.

Shifting to digital records management can alleviate many of the challenges of maintaining physical records and can better serve a district’s students and their families. Ultimately, student record storage, processing, and transfers should be simple and fast. By taking the issues above into consideration, districts can help make sure they are well informed as they consider making the shift to digital.

About the Author

Dr. Bridget Jones has extensive experience in education and family engagement. She earned her doctorate from Northeastern University in Curriculum, Leadership and Teaching. She has worked on several multimillion-dollar United States Department of Education Investing in Innovation grants to help districts expand opportunities and educational programs for students. She has also served as a teacher, STEM coordinator and choice-program manager for school districts. Her current role as Director of Client Success for Scribbles Software includes helping districts budget for and implement new programs and software solutions. She enjoys working with school districts to help them reach their strategic goals.