It's a pretty sorry state of affairs when a school district can't guarantee the accuracy of its high school transcripts for students applying to colleges. It's even worse when the district fails to timely disclose the problem and then dismisses it as a technical computer issue. No wonder so many parents and students are frustrated with the Pinellas County School District, which has a hard time getting routine things right.
Jane Howell, the financial aid specialist for Pinellas schools, advised students and parents attending a financial aid workshop at St. Petersburg High School this week to wait until around Thanksgiving to request high school transcripts needed for college applications. She said the new student information system has been cranking out inaccurate transcripts with missing classes and other issues, and she promised the district is working through the problems.
That was a revelation to many parents and students — and particularly bad timing. The first deadline for applications to Florida State University was last month, and Monday was the preferred application deadline at the University of Florida and many other schools around the country. Seniors on top of the college application process already have requested that their high school transcripts be sent to those schools. Yet there was no coordinated effort to notify seniors countywide of the transcript problem or clear directions for ensuring accurate transcripts were sent the first time.
John Just, the district's assistant superintendent for management information systems, told the St. Petersburg Times that computer systems check the accuracy of transcripts sent electronically to in-state colleges and send them back if they need to be corrected. But those errors are being identified by a state system or by the college, not because the district is being proactive. And the estimated 2 percent error rate is little comfort to students and their families.
Imagine a bank declaring it could not vouch for the accuracy of checking account statements, or the federal government warning that Social Security numbers might not be right. That is how important accurate transcripts are for high school students. They depend on their academic history, grade point average and class rank to be correct as they apply for Bright Futures scholarships and admission to their favorite universities. It is conceivable that an inaccurate high school transcript, particularly one on paper sent to an out-of-state university, could wind up being the reason a student is denied admission.
Students always should verify the accuracy of their high school transcripts, and the school district still should notify all seniors of the possibility of errors and remind them to double-check everything as more college application deadlines approach. The district's complacency in this case reflects broader concerns about its tolerance for poor performance and reluctance to hold anyone accountable.