It's your record -- make it the best one possible

Your official school record was probably begun before you were old enough to read it. It has grown with you each year and followed you no matter how many times you may have changed schools.

Your record may be handwritten on a file card, reduced to a microfilm dot, or punched onto a few inches of computer tape. On it is listed schools you have attended, courses taken, and grades earned. Results of certain tests, such as college board exams and state-required skills tests, are also recorded on this legal document, and, after you have completed high school, certification of graduation, cumulative grade point average, and final rank in class are added.

Transcripts (certified photocopies) are sent to colleges, vocational schools, military services, and employers at your request. This record is kept permanently, meaning that even after 10, 20, or 40 years or more, your high school record should still be waiting somewhere in the school district.

While you are still in school, other information about you is kept in various files -- classroom records, health reports, referrals for disciplinary problems, and attendance notes (including the forgery that said you were home with the "flew"). Policies vary among schools, but most subsidiary files are stored for a few years and then discarded.

Record-keeping policies differ among school districts, but there are some things common to all student records that you and your parents should know. Maybe I can answer for you some of the questions I am most often asked -- usually when it is too late. Is that all there is to it?

Students are usually disappointed when they see their permanent record. It seems depressing that 12 years of spelling lists, homework, and smelly locker rooms could be reduced to a few lines of printing.

One section contains identification information: legal name (and any assumed name or "nickname" used), verified birthdate, current address, and names of parents or legal guardians.

Courses taken and grades earned are usually recorded permanently beginning with ninth grade, although some districts allow graduation credit for certain courses taken earlier. At the end of each grading period new courses and grades are transferred from teachers' rosters. Elementary school progress reports and promotion dates are usually moved to the auxiliary folder after you enter high school. Can I see my records?

Once you have reached the adult age for your state you may request an appointment with a designated school official to review any and all of the material kept on file for you. Until then your parents or legal guardians have this right. You may be included in their interview if they wish.

If there is disagreement with any portion of the material, there are procedures for discussion and resolution. These procedures are defined, together with other rights and protections guaranteed by the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and as amended in 1977.

A copy of this law should be on file at each district's central office and each family notified of the basic provisions in it. However, only schools that receive Federal Education Assistance Funds are generally bound by the Privacy Act. Certain private schools, for example, may follow different procedures. Can anyone else see my records?

That depends. Federal law does not prevent the transfer of student record information to a new school in which you have enrolled. Generally only the official summary of grades, health records, and counseling data necessary to ensure correct placement are transcripted. Parents must be notified of this transfer and of their right to request copies of the transcripted material.

Certain other educational personnel (teachers, counselors, psychologists) may also have access to information on students enrolled in their district and are responsible for the use of this information under the Privacy Act restrictions.

Other than limited information that may be released under specific emergency health or safety situations, no one else is permitted access to your school record without proper written release. Once you are an adult and out of high school, only you can grant permission for anyone to see your record. How can I build a good record?

One semester (or marking period) at a time. Work closely with your counselor to select courses that will meet both graduation requirements and prerequisites for college admissions or employment opportunities.

If you already have a career goal, set your "game plan" to meet it. Remember that while overall grade point average is important in screening college applicants, serious consideration is also given to the kinds of courses taken to achieve that average. Even if your district does not have a weighted grade average, most college evaluators will prefer an applicant with somewhat lower grades earned in advanced or college prep courses over one who made straight "A's" in basketweaving, repeated three times to boost otherwise sagging grades.

If your plans aren't specific yet, then pick the toughest courses you can handle that will prepare you to succeed in an adult world. Don't settle for whatever is easiest, and don't be tempted to take a minimum load for a chance to make Big Macs. I meet too many of these students a few years and a bunch of burgers later, coming back to arrange adult courses because they skipped too many things in high school. Set your balance with a full school load on one side, social activities, job, or both, on the other. Are withdrawals 'bad' for my record?

Not if there aren't too many. A withdrawal or two may simply mean you tried a course not meant for you and the teacher recommended withdrawal rather than failure. A pattern of withdrawals, year after year, will present a picture of someone who can't stick with decisions or gives up too easily. Is it a waste of time to repeat a course?

Not necessarily. Let's say you took geometry and got a "D." Your favorite college requires a "B" or better, so you tackled the course again. Some districts will allow the repeat grade to replace the first one, others will average both together. Either way the evaluator will see that you cared enough to try again. This could also apply to a failure in chemistry taken in tenth grade but repeated as a senior when you were two years older and had a better background in math. What else should I do?

Care about your record. Keep copies of report cards. After graduation, they and your diploma should be kept in a safe place. If your school does not have fireproof storage for permanent files and those ivy-covered walls should be destroyed, your records could be the only proof that you really did survive 12 years of spelling lists, homework, and smelly locker rooms.

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