"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Data on my kid? Who Cares? How Will They Get It?

First, you are invited to attend a meeting with Utah State Office of Education employees on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 4pm at the Alpine District Offices (575 E. 100 N, American Fork).  They will be presenting information on the new testing (really called 'assessment') system for the state, provided by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).  If you never attend another meeting about relating to the schools, PLEASE come to this one!

A couple of pieces of information, I will link to the research on AIR that my fellow board member, Brian Halladay has done below.  AIR is a behavioral research organization not an academic assessment company.  Additionally, the legislature, at some point, created a law that allows testing companies to use "student behavior indicators in assessing student performance."  So, since AIR's mission isn't academics and the state is allowing them to use behavior indicators, why is this a problem?

This goes back to our board discussion on Feb. 26, and a follow-up presentation in our March 12 Meeting... in a word, DATA, your child's personally identifiable information (PII).

Our board reviewed a speech given by US Sec. of Education, Arne Duncan in 2009 hailing the use of "robust data" and how that applies to the new Common Core standards and the ARRA 2009 Stimulus money.  One board member identified that at one point in the speech, Sec. Duncan talks about needing to close and reopen schools and assess teacher performance, as well as student performance, and at another point he says they don't want to use it to fire teachers or to shut down schools.  Incidentally, the No Child Left Behind waiver that Utah received has language about the state taking control of "failing schools".   In short, no local control, but I digress.  The overall tone of the discussion was that we, as the representatives, needed to be on guard in protecting and doing all in our power to make sure our students' data is safe.

We also addressed two other issues, briefly.

1) The change in privacy regulations on a Federal level, known as FERPA (Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act).  These changes did not go through Congress, and they essentially allow any educational entity (schools, districts, state boards) to share personal student information with any other government entity or private organization that has an educational interest.  This is something that I would be very opposed to.

2) The 2009 Stimulus package also included grants for every state to develop a Statewide Longitudinal Database (SLDS) which means your child is tracked at the state level from Preschool (or as early as they have data) through age 20 or into Workforce Services.  As a condition of this grant, the database has to be able to share/include data from other state agencies, like Workforce Services or Dept of Health etc., and the database must be able to share data with other states' databases, as well.  Incidentally, in the Duncan speech, he praises Utah's database efforts as one of six states that had all the elements required by the Data Quality Campaign.  For more information on assessments, read my previous blog here.   

So, based on those items, the desire of the US Secretary of Education to have robust data collection, his change to the privacy regulations, and the State database that Utah has on all our publicly schooled children, the idea of what and how much can be collected and shared is an actual concern to the board. 

On March 12, our data services director, David Smith, presented on how Alpine uses data collection and what information is shared and with whom.  While I was very pleased to hear about a lot of the hoops that we use to make sure private information isn't shared, there is one weak link: the State.  Because of State Law, we are obligated to administer the state tests and to have that data analyzed and computed to both assess student performance and to grade our schools.  So, when a class, say Mrs. A's third grade, is supposed to take the state math test, then our district sends the state office a file of all the students in Mrs. A's third grade class.  This data includes the child's name, unique student id, birthdate, grade, Mrs. A's name, school, and some demographic info.  Then the child takes the tests, they are scored and compared with other students across the state and sent back to the school.  So, at a minimum, your child's name, id, birthdate, demographics and test scores are in the state database, ready to be shared with whomever they choose. 

So, go back to the link above about allowing behavioral indicators to be used in the tests.  So, aside from testing math and English, they can test behaviors. 

Having said all of this, I am concerned by this intrusion into my kids' personal information. 

I don't know if you will be allowed to ask questions at the April 11 meeting, but it makes a huge difference to show elected officials that you are concerned.    Please make sure you clear your calendar for 4pm on Thursday, April 11.  If you can't make it, there are other meetings being held around the state.  Click here for a schedule. 

Board Member Brian Halladay's research on AIR and the upcoming meeting

Next Thursday, April 11th, you are invited to participate in the SAGE assessment System presentation at 4pm at the Alpine School District Office Building.

SAGE is the acronym for the common core testing system that will be collecting data from our children.

I think it’s important for all of us to know before the meeting what SAGE is and it’s implications for our children, our privacy, and our school district.
Student Assessment for Growth and Excellence (“SAGE (http://www.schools.utah.gov/assessment/Adaptive-Assessment-System.aspx) ”) is being developed for Utah by the American Institutes for Research (AIR (http://www.air.org/about/) ). SAGE is Utah’s comprehensive adaptive assessment system, or the testing mechanism that will replace the CRTs. It is designed to replace and expand UTIPS, and provides the test delivery and administration of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

So, who is AIR? AIR is not an academic assessment company - it is a behavioral research organization. AIR has been around for over 60 years. Their founder, John Flanagan, a psychologist, started AIR by developing the “critical incident technique (http://www.apa.org/pubs/databases/psycinfo/cit-article.pdf) ” one of the most widely used behavioral methods that is even now used in assessment models today.

In 1960, AIR initiated “Project Talent (http://www.projecttalent.org/docs/Designing_the_Study_(1960).pdf) ,” a research project administered by John Flanagan and a group of other behavioral scientists involving 440,000 high school students, collecting information on “aptitudes, abilities, knowledge, interests, activities, and backgrounds” of each student. These questions included questions about “hobbies, organizational and club memberships, dating and work experiences. There were questions about students’ health and about their school and study habits. Students were asked about their fathers’ occupations, parents’ education, financial situations, etc.” One question asked was, “How many children do you expect to have after you marry?” and “How old were you when you first started dating?”

What is AIR doing today? AIR is currently working with multiple partners, including the Department of Education, United Nations (http://www.air.org/focus-area/international-development/) , the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Open Society Institute (George Soros), (http://www.air.org/about/?fa=viewContent&content_id=351) to “conduct and apply the best behavioral and social science research evaluation towards improving peoples’ lives, with a special emphasis on the disadvantaged.” AIR prides itself on its "long history of contributing to evidence-based social change."

What does this mean for the Alpine School District, or even the State of Utah? In 2012 USOE developed the USOE Technology Standards 2012 (http://www.setda.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=169&name=DLFE-1560.pdf) . One of the standards is to have a network-enabled computing device capable of providing access to the school’s technology resources. A purpose of this is for the understanding “human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that AIR will be heavily involved with this.

AIR will be developing these assessments, which will include behavioral questions. It’s what they do. One of their primary objectives is to use this data not only in collaboration with other states in relation to common core, but also in collaboration with the United Nations.

With the recent amendments to the FERPA laws, the question becomes what will we as parents do right now to protect the privacy of our children?

Come to the meeting next Thursday at 4pm at the Alpine School District Office Building and get informed!