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Methods to Help You Optimize K-12 Student Account Naming Standards

In recent months, there has been a lot of discussion among my customers about the best approaches to developing naming standards for students.

Most of the districts that I work with are looking at finding the “best” naming standard. The longer goal is to establish a standard that will ultimately help with Single Sign On or SSO

In this post, I will share what elements make up the best student account naming standards, and how you can deploy some of these techniques in your own district.

I have had the opportunity to work with many school districts over the 20+ years that I have spent in consulting in K12 education, and so I’ve assembled a collection of the different naming standards that I’ve encountered along the way. I’ll share a list as well as pros and cons of each type.


pexels-norma-mortenson-8456138What Elements Make Up the Best Student Account Naming Standards

Each of the options contains some or all of the following data elements:

  • First Name
  • First Initial
  • Last Name
  • Student ID or Two Digit Graduation Year

To generate a list of examples below, I’ll use my own name, assuming that I’m a senior, and my graduation year is be 2022. For this example, my student ID will be 12345.

  • 0012345
  • 18.12345
  • 18LarsonKei
  • 18LarsonKe
  • 18LarsonK
  • 18Klarson
  • 18KeithLarson
  • Keith.Larson18
  • LarsonK
  • Keith.Larson
  • Keith Larson
  • K_Larson345
  • Larson12345
  • Klarson2345
  • LarKei345

There are obviously many subtle variations possible differences to make even more combinations, but these will be enough to have a meaningful discussion about the pros and cons.

First, take into consideration that spaces should generally be avoided. It is widely accepted to replace any spaces with underscores or periods to visually separate names to make them more readable.  For instance, it's common practice in Microsoft Active Directory to use FirstName.LastName, however this format requires a special registry change on the client end, in order for it to be supported in MicroFocus eDirectory.

I have never encountered issues including hyphens in any account name. Many student names now have apostrophes in Last Names as well as First Names. These are fine to include in an account name for your local directory, but you may want to investigate whether your online applications will support the use of apostrophes.  Most of my districts avoid including them because they have discovered online applications that do not support or allow them.

Microsoft Active Directory allows the “Common Name” and the “Universal Principal Name” to be long enough to support any name that you might encounter, but it still will truncate the username to 20 characters to set the SamAccountName value for the user. This can cause challenges if you are planning to do wireless authentication via Radius. It would be best if the name that a student uses to login on their personal wireless device is the as the username portion of their email address. If the username is over 20 characters, they will be different.

You might consider how things will sort in your local directory. Starting any username with First Name or First Initial can make it more difficult to find a person because they use a nickname or don’t go by their proper name. You might be looking for an account for Bobby, but his proper name is Robert, so you look in the wrong place at first. You may find Lastname.Firstname to be more useful in finding a person.

What to know about Including Graduation Year

pexels-emily-ranquist-1205651Including the Two Digit Grad year in the login name was extremely helpful when you were creating accounts manually or importing them at the beginning of the year with a .csv file. This makes it easy to take the graduating seniors and either move them to a disabled OU in bulk or to delete them entirely in bulk. Once you have account creation automated with a service like Student Provisioning Services, this provides less value because the automation puts the accounts where they belong without any manual intervention.

The graduation year can be especially problematic for students that are at risk of not graduating. If you have a credit recovery program, the graduation year for these students can fluctuate from week to week. When you were creating users manually, this wouldn’t be an issue because you would never try to keep up with these changes. This is very different once you have automation in place and the actual graduation year in your Student Information System is automatically reflected in your local directory. A student’s login or email address can change several times in a very short period. Besides the annoyance of keeping up with these changes, it can be a form of negative reinforcement for the student.

Avoid Tie Breakers with the StudentID

The best naming standard is one that is guaranteed to be unique across your entire organization and one that never changes for the entire career of a student. This eliminates the need for any tie-breakers and provides a consistent experience from Kindergarten through graduation. The only naming standard that meets this completely is to just use the StudentID as the username.

I have seen several districts with over 10,000 students adopt this as their naming standard. It is very simple, easy and unique. I am personally against it for two reasons. One, this can almost be as personal as a social security number. Many districts use this as a student’s lunch code. If this is a fellow student’s email address, you are encouraging other students to memorize something that is supposed to be personal and secret. Two, I think that it is difficult to remember email addresses where the username portion is all numbers.

How to Use the 3/3/3 Username

A reasonable compromise that meets the necessary requirements of a good username is what one of my customers calls their 3/3/3 username. That is the first three characters of the last name, the first three characters of the first name and the last three characters of the studentID. In a district with approximately 7000 students, they did end up with a single tie between two students. If they adjusted this to be 3/3/4, there would never have been a tie. I am a huge fan of this standard as being reasonable to remember, having a fixed length that is relatively short and can be guaranteed unique across a large number of students without using their whole studentID as the username.


Changing Naming Standards

When you are doing things manually, changing naming standards can be a daunting and difficult task.  If you have a solution like Student Provisioning Services in place, this is much easier to accomplish.  In fact, a number of districts have decided after their automation was completed to change their standard because it was so simple.  The hardest part of the process is communicating the change to staff, students and parents.


pexels-george-pak-7972506-1Taking the Next Steps

It is my hope that this helped you to navigate this challenge and give you ideas that will help your district to serve your students better. 

As you move forward with structuring or restructuring the naming standards in your district, please feel free to use me as a resource.


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