At best, keeping track of students in a typical school can be a headache. Doing the same at a larger scale, for example in the district level, can quickly turn into a nightmare especially if the same student numbers end up being assigned to multiple students.

 

This was a problem recently solved by the Web-based Provincial Student Registration System (PSRS) in New Brunswick.

Due to its success, the PSRS has been nominated for a 2010 KIRA Award (Knowledge Industry Recognition and Achievement) in New Brunswick. The Fredericton-based organization has nominated the NB Department of Education as one of three finalists in the “Technological Advancement / Innovation Award – Public Sector” category. The winners will be announced in May. http://www.kiraawards.com            

 

New Brunswick first implemented a Student Information System (SIS) in 1994 using the student’s provincial Medicare number as the key identifier. In order to comply with the province’s new Protection of Personal Information Act, a unique 10-digit student identifier was introduced in 2006. A web-based information system was also created at that time to allow districts and schools to search for students, including those transferring between schools and school districts.  

Problems arose shortly after introducing the new student identifier. Each school has its own unique SIS which does not necessarily communicate with other SIS in other schools and school districts. It only associates with its own data and when new students (new students not found in the provincial student search) need to be registered at a school, the SIS is designed to automatically offer the next available number in sequence. Although this number is unique at that specific time in that specific SIS instance, there are no guarantees that a student at another school is not already assigned that number. Furthermore, with no established systematic way to properly control number assignments or enforce data standards, issues arose, including the unexplained recycling of numbers within the SIS and the inconsistent entry of data across the user base. Rules and guidelines existed but no systematic means of enforcement. As a result, some student numbers were used by multiple students while other students were assigned a second (or third) number, a huge problem considering the need to transfer student data across multiple information systems.

In order to solve these issues and ensure data integrity, generating and assigning unique student identifiers centrally was required. Key data elements of a student’s profile needed to be identified and included as part of the minimum data requirements in order to register a student.

In response, the department developed a web-based system, called the Provincial Student Registration System (PSRS), to uniquely identify each student and to properly generate a unique provincial student identifier. The student number is called the New Brunswick Education Number (NBEN) and is associated with a student in perpetuity. The NBEN is a random 10-digit number and fulfills three compelling arguments for central assignation: no personal information will be inferred from the number, assignation will be validated systematically/electronically, and it is forward-looking in terms of system integration with current and future department or district applications, as well as any possible future agreements with external partners (e.g. post-secondary institutions and First Nation schools). For the majority of students, the existing student number assignments were maintained and continue to be associated with the student.

Although the PSRS was the cornerstone of the solution, officials recognized other changes were needed. The PSRS was strengthened with Policy 804 – Student Registration which includes a revised School Entry Permit, a key document in the registration process. Officials also established a PSRS support team to address implementation issues and maintain communication channels. A number of data standards were also revised or developed guiding school-level personnel through the registration process and providing clarity on what information to collect and precisely how to record it.

The PSRS positions officials to be more proactive.

John D. Kershaw

Deputy Minister

Department of Education

New Brunswick, Canada

(Anglophone Sector)

David M. Kershaw

Masters, Computer Science

Halifax, Nova Scotia

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