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Student Data – Not For Parents Any More?

Colorado school districts are collecting broad, detailed educational and psychological data on their students for use by private companies and the federal government, yet parental access to the same information remains limited and difficult to come by.

Local districts are giving parents the run-around and stalling, while the state Department of Education claims that it simply doesn’t have the ability to connect parents with their children’s data.

Recently, Watchdog Wire spoke to parents in Colorado who have been trying for months, to see their children’s data and the vendors who have access to this data.

Ft. Collins parent Cheri Kiesecker has written to the Colorado Dept of Education (CDE), which has said it cannot share data with parents. Dan Damagala, CDE’s CIO of Information Management Services, replied that, “The Colorado Department of Education does not have a mechanism for verifying parent/guardian relationships to students– and the release of student information to an unauthorized entity would be a violation of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”

In other words, CDE is citing the very law intended to assure parents access to justify denying them that same access.

Parent Efforts Frustrated

Mrs. Kiesecker commented, “First, CDE said that they do not share student’s personal identifying information, with name, birth date, address, SSN, then we found their policy and video on how they do share it. Now CDE tells us that we can’t see the data or who it has been shared with? It seems crazy to me that complete strangers and vendors can have access to my children’s data, but I cannot.”

Jefferson County parent Natalie Adams was given a similar response by CDE. After personal requests to both State Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond and his Special Assistant Elliot Asp, Adams was told there was no way to connect her with her kids’ data, so she could not get data from the state.

Adams stated, “The state collects personally identifiable information about my child, that it gathered from my district, then CDE strips the parent from the record, which now allows CDE to have complete control over my child’s information and what happens to it.”

Mrs. Kiesecker is still awaiting a definitive reply from her local school district. An initial request “for records,” in March was met with only one document. A more detailed follow-up request three weeks ago is being processed while the district researches “appropriate and relevant information.” The district has three more weeks to fulfill the request.

Brandi Butticaz, a Douglas County parent asked the school for a copy of her child’s records when she began homeschooling him. She tells Watchdog Wire, “The only thing they allowed me to access was his report cards. Which I already had. They said the cumulative file could not go to parents; we could not even look at it. It had to go from school to school even if I was homeschooling him.”

This mirrors John Eppolito’s experience in Nevada, where the state of Nevada initially tried to charge him $10,000 to see his own children’s data. In the face of adverse publicity, they dropped the charge, only to claim that they are unable to connect him with the data, the same data they previously tried to charge him for access to.’

Data Systems a Condition of “Race to the Top”

As part of its successful campaign for $73 million of Race to the Top money, Colorado agreed to implement Common Core, and to the the “Four Assurances,” the third of which reads, “Building data systems that measure student growth and success.”

Colorado received $17.4 Million addtional dollars from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to build the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) in 2010. Every state now has such an SLDS database. With regional data centers across the country, states can share and compare student data, in effect creating a nationwide database.

In addition, every state adopting common core must join the testing consortia, either PARCC or SBAC. (Colorado chose PARCC). The consortia are required to “provide timely and complete access to any and all data collected at the state level” to the federal government. The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA)of 2008, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Education Reform Sciences Act of 2002, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) prohibit the creation of a federal database with students’ personally identifiable information (e.g., Social Security Number).

CDE creates the Golden Record of your child’s data and shares this with other vendors and agencies across the state and the country. Millions of personally identifiable data are stored in the Golden Record are shared with the Dept. of Corrections, Dept. of Labor, Social Services, and Higher Ed and the Federal government. The intent is to track children from pre-K through the workforce.

The data collected isn’t just about grades, much of it is psychological. Schools collect and share non-cognitive data by teacher observation, classroom video, digital programs, curriculum and tests taken on classroom computers. Ed tech companies are scrambling to compete in this multi-billion dollar digital market. Vendors are eager to get their hands on this lucrative data, as student data is a fast growing market.

Legislature Rejected Stronger Measures

Earlier this year, SB14-204, which would have required parental consent before collecting and sharing children’s data and was supported by the Colorado ACLU, was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Legislators did pass a weaker data bill, HB14-1294, which requires CDE to list its data vendors and contracts, but does not address parental consent, and the time limit for response is unstated in the law.

The questions of both personally identifiable information (PII) and parental consent were raised during the bill’s consideration on March 17.  Rep. James Wilson (R-Salida) said, “I asked this question during testimony, and it’s also listed in the amendment.  Why does CDE need any PII at all?  I am struggling with that.”  Rep. Carole Murray (R-Castle Rock) replied that it was necessary when the state applies for federal grants, although by law, the federal government isn’t allowed to collect PII itself.

The difficulty in pinning down exactly where the requirement to collect PII lies is a prime example of how hard it is to grapple with regulatory issues where multiple levels of government are involved – they often tend to deflect responsibility onto other governments agencies.

The confusion and conflicting requirements have frustrated even some districts.  Meghann Silverthorn, a Douglas County school board member credited with efforts to help Mrs. Bucattiz, issued the following statement to Watchdog Wire:
Parents rightfully have many questions about what information about their children is being collected and shared, and with whom. Our district has passed a formal resolution not to share any more data with the state than what is required by law. However, I believe the pendulum has swung too far away from local control when parents have trouble accessing their own children’s records but feel uninformed about what data about them is being collected and shared with the state. It is essential that parents be the drivers behind their kids’ education, and it is hard to have them as partners when such obstacles to information exist.

Later during deliberations, Rep. Murray said, “One of the things that has been requested is a parent opt-out….Frankly, I don’t see the need for that.” She went on to claim that it will affect teacher accountability if students opt out.  Mrs. Kiesecker and Mrs. Adams had been among those asking for an amendment that would allow parents to opt out of data collection and therefore would require parental consent prior to having data collected.

Aimie Randall

Aimie Randall is a Colorado resident who is passionate about preserving the American way of life, even when much of the populace is disinterested in liberty. Twitter: @JennyLedge

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