Words On Wednesday

2016-10-05 School Paperwork Automation

I recently began the process of enrolling my son in 3K and it is ridiculous the amount of paperwork that we have to fill out, specifically how much of it is redundant.

Current Process

Any parent of a child in school can relate. You start with this huge stack of papers and you know the whole process is going to be miserable. As much as it sucks, it’s necessary for a variety of legal and practical purposes. You start on the first page and hit all the fields you knew would be there. Just to name a few, you have child’s name, parent’s name, home address, social security number, and phone number. These were expected from the beginning.

As you make your way through the sheets, you see some of those same fields appearing again, and again, and again, until you’re no longer having to think about them or read them from a document. At this point, they’re muscle memory. Your eyes see the field name and your hand begins instinctively jotting down the same numbers you wrote not 5 minutes ago.

Some fields are a little less common, but still repeated a few times through the whole process. Child’s dentist address, not something you know, but something you can easily look up online. You search for it once, write it down, and continue on. Half an hour later, you come across another form wanting the same information. Do you look it up online again, do you search back through the forms you’ve already finished to find where you wrote it down before? Surely, you won’t need it again after this form.

By the time you finish with the stack, your hand aches from so much writing. Your brain is fried from either remembering or trying to remember so much information over and over again. And worst of all, you know this whole process is going to repeated again next year. Heaven forbid you have multiple kids in school, to have to do it multiple times per year.

This process is ugly, it’s archaic, and personally, I think it’s unnecessary. We can streamline the whole thing, we have the technology.

Digital Forms

Picture this: you step inside the registration area for the school, knowing the misery this day will hold. Instead of seeing a massive crowd of parents collecting forms from various stacks, however, you see a neat distribution of tables with laptops at each seat. Families are collected at each work station, while a few administrators patrol around the room to answer any questions that might arise.

The administrator directs you to the closest open workstation. A simple and intuitive interface asks a few questions about registration, such as grade level and social security number. Once the system has determined that your student has not yet been entered into the system, you’re presented with a neat and tidy list of field names and blanks.

You start filling out this information, field by field. Child’s name, parent name, contact information and all those data points that you know right off hand. Eventually, you hit those fields you don’t know as well, regarding medical and dental practices. You look them up, as you normally would, and continue to the end of the list of fields.

Once you finish, the system checks that all fields have been populated with a valid entry and presents a read-only display of the fields for the parent to check over. Once the parent confirms that everything looks right, the magic happens. Instead of slaving over a list of forms and inputting the same information by hand multiple times, this system automatically populates every relevant form with the necessary information.

Any forms that require a signature or special input not generalized to other forms are presented to the user in a digital form, one by one. Each of these already has the bulk of the information populated, the user just needs to read the intent of the individual form. Every form has an accept button and a decline button, available after any other required input.

Once all the forms are populated and finished, families are directed to printing stations. At this station, the forms are all neatly printed out and collected into stacks for respective families. Instead of illegible chicken scratch, every form is filled out with perfect Arial or Times New Roman font.

One final form is placed at the top of each stack. This form, a summary of all the other forms, lists each subsequent form by name, followed by the parent’s answer or decision for that form to the side. At the bottom of this page is a single line for signature and date. This signature indicates that the parent agrees that all the information on these forms is correct to the best of their knowledge, and that they claim responsibility for having filled it out.

Multiple Students

But wait, what about other children you have in school? This procedure is certainly easier than the old way, but parents of multiple children may still have to duplicate information for each student. You return to a workstation (or maybe take care of it before you even leave the workstation for the first child) and indicate that you will be filling out a form for the sibling of a child already in the system.

Obviously, there would be a check in place such that parents can’t violate HIPAA and access the information of any student in the system. However, once it is deemed appropriate that a parent is responsible for an already entered student, the same prompt appears as before with the majority of the fields already populated.

Things like home address, primary care physician, and many other fields will likely be the same for multiple children within the same household. Instead of duplicating this information for every child in school, much of it could be recycled from the first child in the system. If two siblings do have different healthcare providers or what have you, the user could certainly delete the data already entered and replace it with the appropriate information. However, there’s no reason to beat a dead horse and enter the same information twice.

Year After Year

Certainly, the first year of this system’s implementation would require some growing pains. Subsequent years would ideally be much smoother. Much like multiple children in the same household, parents could recover a child’s information from the previous year to check over and make sure everything looks correct. No changes in healthcare provider? Home address is still the same? All the same elections as what you chose the previous year? Print and sign, and you’re on your way.

Benefits

Instead of having filled out the same fields maybe 10 or 20 times, they answered each prompt only a single time. Instead of suffering through form after form for the course of an hour or more, the whole process probably took 10 or 15 minutes. Instead of struggling to write legibly, and still having the teachers or administrators determine each letter and word the best they can, everything is printed in basic and uniform font.

Legal responsibility is still given with the physical signature on the summary form. If any sort of identity checking is required, administrators could maybe check the driver’s license and proof of residency before parents even sit down to fill out the form. No sense wasting anyone’s time when you can get the required information up front.

A few years into this system, the only parents spending any time with forms would be those of new students. Everyone else could walk in, make sure everything looks right and correct anything that isn’t, print, sign, and leave. Imagine all the time saved for parents filling out the same, redundant forms over and over for each child, every year. Picture the joy of administrators who no longer have to suffer through the terrible handwriting of parents who haven’t wielded a pen in a decade.

This system works better for everyone. With the exception of technophobes and luddites who prefer the old and archaic way of doing things, everyone is better off with this sort of system in place. And if the proper security measures are implemented, it is even more private and secure than hard copies filled out by hand.

Though physical forms are printed out for parent confirmation, all this data would realistically already be saved into the school system. Instead of suffering from possible transcription error, everything is entered straight from the parent’s input. No poor soul has to sit through the mind-numbing task of entering data from a form for every student.

Possibility

In all seriousness, I don’t see this sort of system being implemented in school systems any time soon. The machinations of administrative and clerical tasks are set in their ways and slow to change. As much as the benefits are obvious and undeniable, there has to actually be efforts made to employ this new sort of interface. While I would love to see school systems at large migrate to this method, I can’t imagine it will be made a reality in the next 5 years.

Meta:

Words: 1525 | Characters: 8843 | Sentences: 81

Paragraphs: 29 | Reading Level: 11-12th Grade

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