PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Public school students in Rhode Island will have their academic progress tracked by a new identification system.

The 10-digit number, called a universal student identifier, will allow districts to follow the performance of all students from elementary school through high school, The Providence Journal reported.

The identifier number is randomly generated by a computer and is confidential, state education officials say. The state assigns a number to each child and then that ID number is sent back to the district, which merges it with the child’s records.

Although the Federal No Child Left Behind law doesn’t require that states adopt a universal ID system, it does require that states gather test-score data based on ethnicity, income, gender and disability. Without some kind of identification system, states could not assemble and sort all of this information.

At least 33 states have adopted some form of identifier, and, like Rhode Island, most have chosen a system in which the number is assigned by the state education department.

With Rhode Island’s new identification system, districts will be able to flag schools that seem to “lose” a sizable number of students between 9th and 10th grades, which is when the state assessments are given.

For the first time, schools will be able to follow a class of fourth graders as it moves through the system. Currently, Rhode Island tests students in grades 4, 8 and 10 every year. But because a different group of fourth graders is assessed each spring, the department has no way of knowing whether children are benefiting from a particular learning approach.

The identifier is the first step in creating a student-information system, according to Edward Giroux, director of information systems for the Department of Education.

Currently, the state has access to 2004 test scores and demographic data-a child’s race, gender and English-language proficiency-through the student ID. By the end of this year, the state will be able to bring all sorts of information together with the click of a mouse.

When the system is completed, each student should have an electronic portfolio that includes attendance, test scores, discipline records and any special services that a child might receive. That portfolio will follow the student wherever he or she goes.

Rhode Island developed the identifier in-house, spending about $100,000, including money to train local districts on how to use the database.

AP-ES-08-21-04 1124EDT

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