This article was submitted by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)
Since the passage of First to the Top legislation in 2010, as our organization has travelled across the state, we have heard from both parents and educators with concerns about the collection, use and potential misuse of student and teacher data. While it is correct that the newly adopted PARCC exams will not collect any more additional data than TCAP that is not the concern of Tennessee parents or educators.
In 2009 an audit raised concerns about the state education department vendor Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) using prisoners to count, inventory and shred various materials in bulk quantities. According to the audit, included in the files were students’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and test performance data, all of which was handed over without prior consent from parents. The access of highly sensitive information to maximum security prison inmates is a significant security risk according to the report. We must take steps to make sure this never happens again.
Therefore, those who are trying to make this debate about Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are misinformed and misleading policymakers and stakeholders about the issue. The public has sent a very strong message that policymakers must make individual student data-mining in Tennessee illegal. Schools and schools systems need better policies in regard to school personnel having access to an educator’s personal summative and evaluation scores. Any legislation adopted must clearly set out the conditions and restrictions on the use of confidential student and teacher data. We must prohibit intrusive data tracking, which is an invasion of the rights of students and their families. Any data collected should be used for the sole purpose of tracking the academic progress and needs of students by education officials at the local and state level.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal privacy law that gives parents certain rights with regard to their children’s education records, such as the right to inspect and review your child’s education records. In December, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education revised its regulations governing the implementation of FERPA by schools, districts, and States. These revisions change several of the exceptions to FERPA’s consent rule. What parents and educators are seeking is a guarantee from the state that they are putting additional measures in place to protect students and educators. Some legal experts believe that according to FERPA, the district, not the state, is the controlling party for the use of personal student data.
The 2011 changes permitted schools to disclose information on students if it has been properly designated as directory information. By law, directory information includes things that would generally not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed, such as name, address, photograph, and date of birth. Directory information may not include things such a student’s social security number or grades. State policymakers may wish to go further than federal law in protecting student information. Why would a 3rd Party need photographs of children for example? Why any individual, personalized student data is necessary is questionable, since comparisons are commonly done and are already widely available through de-identified aggregated student data.
Before a single child’s information is turned over to any 3rd party, policymakers should give assurance to parents and educators that no harm will come to Tennessee school children by adopting the following principles: The state and districts should be required to publish any and all existing data sharing agreements in printed and electronic form, and include a thorough explanation of its purpose and provisions, and make it available to parents and local school authorities statewide; The Department of Education should hold hearings throughout the state or testify before the legislature to explain any existing data agreement, and answer questions from the public or their representatives, obtain informed comment, and gauge public reaction; All parents should have the right to be notified of the impending disclosure of their children’s data, and provide them with a right to consent or have the right to withhold their children’s information from being shared; The state should have to define what rights families or individuals will have to obtain relief if harmed by improper use or release of their child’s private information, including how claims can be made; and finally, any legislation must ensure that the privacy interest of public school children and their families are put above the interests of any 3rd Party and its agents and subsidiaries.
We must be committed to protecting student and teacher data. There are several pieces of pending legislation being considered by the General Assembly that can be used to accomplish this task. Representatives Kevin Brooks, Bill Dunn, Vance Dennis, Jeremy Faison and Senators Dolores Gresham and Farrell Haile have been leading on this issue. We strongly support these efforts, and encourage passage of legislation to address parent and educator’s concerns.
Footnote:  For more information about FERPA, please see “FERPA General Guidance for Parents” on the Family Policy Compliance Office Web site: www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/
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