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Errors on transcripts add to anxieties in Pinellas

Glitches with Pinellas' new online system to track student data have produced more high school transcripts with errors and more anxiety among families trying to navigate the high season for college applications.

One of the frequent errors: problems with grade "weighting" for classes like honors or Advanced Placement. Less common errors run the gamut, from missing grades to the same course being listed twice.

St. Petersburg High senior Will Harrington's transcript wrongly said he had taken Journalism I both his freshman and sophomore years. "I had to send them again to colleges," he said. "It ended up being okay. (But) the same thing happened to my twin brother."

John Just, the assistant superintendent for management information systems, acknowledged a higher error rate in transcripts this year. He said he realizes why parents are antsy, given a college admissions game that gets more competitive every year.

He called it unacceptable.

Over the summer, the district fully switched to a new student information system that tracks everything from attendance to grades. And as high school officials acclimate to it, they are, by the district's admission, making more mistakes that are being inadvertently sent to colleges.

"Almost everyone had a problem with theirs," said James Ballow, a senior at Tarpon Springs High. The problem on his: His class rank moved to No. 4 for no reason. "I actually haven't applied to any colleges yet, thank God."

But Just said the error rate in Pinellas remains extremely low and other checks and balances built into the transcript pipeline catch the vast majority of errors the district misses. He also said guidance counselors and other school officials have been advised in recent weeks to be extra careful in scanning for glitches.

"There is a little bit of a problem with this," Just said. "But we know where a lot of the problems are and where the training is needed."

Just said the district's error rate for sent-off transcripts in the past has been about 1 percent. At the moment, it's about 2 percent.

An exact figure for the total transcripts sent this year, and the total number of inaccurate ones, was not available Wednesday. Just estimated at least 60,000 were going to colleges each year, and tens of thousands of others were going to a Florida Department of Education site that determines eligibility for Bright Futures scholarships.

Transcripts are frequently updated. Multiple transcripts can be generated and sent off for a single student.

As a sample, Just offered data for two recent batches of sent transcripts. Friday was an unusually busy day for transcript transmission because of early admission deadlines at some colleges. That day the district sent 3,096 transcripts, with 45 turning up errors.

On Monday, the district sent 946 transcripts. Forty-one had errors.

The errors were identified either by the college or by an Education Department system that serves as a way station for transcripts between high schools and colleges. Both the department and colleges use systems that check transcripts for accuracy and send them back to the district for correction if necessary. Paper transcripts also are verified before they are sent to colleges.

Patrick Herring, director of admissions at the University of Florida, said it's not unheard of for an error to pop up on a transcript because of a software glitch or update.

Janice Finney, director of admissions at Florida State University, said she had not heard of any widespread issue with Pinellas transcripts.

Hillsborough data center manager Rick Laneau could not offer an error rate. But he said the district hasn't faced large-scale errors with transcripts, largely because it developed an in-house system over the last 30 years.

"I can feel for the pain they're going through," he said of Pinellas. "To switch out a system, that's a major undertaking."

This week, Jane Howell, the financial aid specialist for Pinellas schools, told students and parents attending financial aid seminars at St. Petersburg and Boca Ciega high schools that the district was using a new computer program for student data. She suggested they wait a few weeks to order a transcript while the district works through the kinks.

In the case of students who may have already had their transcripts sent to a college, she told them to order a paper copy and double-check everything.

"It's just prudent to check it out," she said.

Pinellas officials have been advising parents for years to review their students' transcripts and the same goes for this year, Just said.

"We're talking about kids' futures here. There's no one who takes that more seriously than I do."

Times staff writer Tom Marshall and correspondent Kelly Price contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Errors on transcripts add to anxieties in Pinellas 11/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 12:16am]

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