Archive for March, 2014

FERPA-Whose Hands Tap Student Data?

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

The window of time for field testing California’s Smarter Balanced tests, designed to assess Common Core State Standards (CCSS), began Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Next the issue of analyzing the test questions for validity will come and that means a conflict with limits in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The March 26, 2014, program on NPR’s Forum discussed the pros and cons of assessment that had been roundly criticized in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. In spite of the troubles for states that have already used new exams to assess Common Core State Standards, like New York, the advocates of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in California are upbeat. Teacher education is to be modified; standards are fewer but explored more deeply; technological components needed in school districts have been surveyed; and new curriculum is to be phased in gradually. Most important, at least in California, analysis of the assessments is to improve instruction, rather than assign a label which stays in the student’s record for all school days.

However, the analysis of student assessments and who is allowed to handle such data is the conflict in many states. Since 1974 the law called Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a bill by Senator James Buckley, has provided the guidelines for sharing student records. As a brief summary, only parents and students can peruse and amend information in the student’s record. Schools may not hand over information unless all identification has been eliminated and, even then, only certain groups are authorized to use the records. Every state’s department of education has the full legislation available on its website.

The 1974 legislation has been amended several times to define vague wording or to update references. The latest amendments came about in 2011when the United States Department of Education offered clarifications to the act. The main change was to ask for written agreement between the school, district, or state and any private company before allowing disguised information to be touched by the private company hired to analyze educational assessment data. For example, SBAC has hired and will hire firms to verify validity of field test data. (See 3-18-14 post for information about SBAC).

Look up FERPA on the internet. You will find many articles and blogs chastising the U. S. Department of Education, saying the latest changes make it easier for outside vendors to exploit the data for financial marketing reasons. For example, in some PARCC consortium states, parents objected to data being managed by InBloom, a private cyber cloud firm that might sell the data to other vendors. Parents say the legislation no longer protects student rights of privacy. It is true that in 2001 after passage of the Patriot Act, directory information was amended to be disclosed for military purposes.

Although 45 states and Washington, DC, agreed to update their curriculum to reflect Common Core Standards, it is not certain that all education changes will unfold smoothly. Criticism abounds. Conservative states have dropped out of consortia. Money concerns overtake the explanation of advantages. Technology in schools is not as advanced as news stories share.

On the other hand, why denigrate one change to public education that over time may finally improve student learning? Student achievement is the goal. Fix the problems. Move along!

Is It Really Balanced Smarter?

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Plenty of words about the controversy concerning Partnership of Assessment Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and its assessment developer Pearson Education, but not so much about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Field tests are set for Spring 2014.

Three questions about the twenty-five state consortium reveal the main facts.

How did the consortium get together? Once the enormity of designing new assessments that covered Common Core State Standards (CCSS) settled in the brains of state Departments of Education, the decision to work with others seemed worth the effort. A grant proposal was offered to the United States Department of Education and the consortium received a $175 million grant to design an exam, design the reporting and analysis, and get every state’s agreement.  Teachers, administrators and parents from each state offered ideas to improve the test each student must take yearly to satisfy pupil outcomes. Not only do test results matter, but in California, the number of students reclassified to fluent English speaking, the percent of high school students that pass Advanced Placement exams, high score for California’s Academic Performance Index, and the number deemed college and career ready. Is that enough to ask?

Are parents informed and involved, given the news about security issues surrounding student data? A de rigueur provision for parent involvement is established for all members of the consortium as per the guidelines to show how the funds are being used. How parent involvement is accounted for is not easily accessible or explained on the SBAC website.

The question of data security was a priority even before many states became unhappy with the requirements of the system devised by Pearson for PARCC. Early on for SBAC, Wireless Generation was given the contract to prepare a data collection, reporting, and analysis system. Recently another contract to develop a digital library of teacher resources was awarded to Amplify Light, name change for Wireless Generation and subsidiary of Amplify whose CEO is Joel Klein, former Superintendent of New York City schools. This company is the education arm of News Corp,Rupert Murdoch’s megalo-company, he of hacking infamy. Somehow, Education Testing Service (ETS) has its finger in the pie. Washington State Department of Education has taken on the proposal and contracting duties for the consortium and, so far, no security scandal has erupted.

Who devised the assessments? From the consortium, a Test Design Work group was assigned to develop new formative, interim, and summative assessments. A State Network of Educators and a National Advisory Panel supported and reviewed the design for quality. Smarter Balanced says the questions on the tests must be “accessible and challenging”; address the “full breadth and depth” of the CCSS. PARCC’s exams are on-line and SBAC exams introduce a computer-adaptive model. A long report lists the technical needs to allow the assessments to work. The cost is standing states on their heels, $29.95 per student for PARCC’s assessment tools and $22.50 for the “basic” SBAC assessment (data provided by Education Week, July 2013), not including soft and hardware to give the tests, analysis applications, and scoring the assessments. Vendors have their fingers on the keys, ready to propose assistance.

In the long term, the cost of tests, analysis, reporting, and security per student may be reduced by economies of scale, but be assured it will not be pennies.