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What's in your permanent record?

December 06, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

It's been 25 years since fifth grade. You're trying to remember how that spitwad melee you caused in Mr. Wisdom's class turned out.

Did iron-fisted Principal Footstomp get involved? Were you banished to the detention room without legal representation?

It's no use. Let it go. The records probably are gone, depending where you live.

That "permanent file" that teachers held over your head lives up to its name in some ways, but not in others.

Chances are, records of your grades and test scores will live on like Methuselah. Other information might be discarded.

Regulations vary in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The Maryland State Department of Education requires school systems to permanently keep students' high school test scores and grades, as well as some biographical information, such as name, address and date of birth, spokesman Bill Reinhard said.

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Academic records from kindergarten to eighth grade are kept only until students turn 21 years old.

Transfer records are kept for three years after students switch schools.

Discipline records are maintained until students graduate, complete a high school equivalency program or turn 21, Reinhard said.

Pennsylvania's education regulations call for school systems to keep Category A data - parents' names and addresses, birth dates, academic work completed, grades, standardized achievement test scores, attendance - for at least 100 years.

Category B information - such as health data, family background, counselor ratings and observations, standardized intelligence test scores and "verified reports of serious or recurrent behavior patterns" - does not need to be kept forever.

"School systems should give serious consideration to the elimination of unnecessary Category 'B' data at periodic intervals; for example, at points of transition from elementary to junior high school and from junior high to high school," the education regulations say. "In any case, these records should be destroyed, or else retained only under conditions of anonymity, (for research purposes) when the student leaves school."

Category C data - described as "potentially useful information but not yet verified or clearly needed beyond the immediate present," such as personality test results and reports made as part of ongoing investigations - should be destroyed "as soon as their usefulness is ended," unless they move into the B category and are needed later, the regulations say.

The Greencastle-Antrim School District in Franklin County, Pa., destroys discipline records by the time students graduate or leave school, guidance counselor Tom Dracz said.

In West Virginia, records of students' names, addresses, academic performances and test scores are kept permanently by school districts, said Nancy Walker of the state's Education Information System.

"I've never heard of any being destroyed," she said.

That includes discipline records and anything else kept about a student, said Dave Kenney, the director of research and technology for Berkeley County Schools.

"We pretty much keep it all," he said.

Many years ago, districts might have saved "personal comments" that teachers made about students, but that practice has been eliminated "to keep things professional," Walker said.

Some state and local officials said that former students most often ask for copies of their records when applying for college and need a transcript.

People born around the 1920s and 1930s have asked for proof of birth for Social Security records, said Debbie Timmons, the superintendent's secretary in the Greencastle-Antrim School District.

Some people of that era were born at home and didn't have birth certificates, she said.

When a document no longer is needed, the Greencastle-Antrim School District might find another use for it.

Timmons said student inoculation sheets serve as stand-ins for diplomas when seniors rehearse their commencement ceremonies.

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