Common Core critics air data concerns – state, school officials answer

2013-11-03T00:00:00Z Common Core critics air data concerns – state, school officials answerBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
November 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

HELENA – As Montana public school students take new English and math assessment tests linked to new Common Core standards, the state and school districts will keep records of the test results.

Critics of the standards say they’re concerned that these and other student data, under rules related to Common Core, could become part of a national database on students.

“The (federal government) may make requests of data, and we have to provide it,” says Debra Lamm, a private education consultant from Livingston. “I’m not saying they have it right now today, but from everything I’ve pieced together, it appears to me they will have access to student-level data.”

State and local school officials say the only “student-level data” from Montana that are or will be provided to the U.S. Department of Education are aggregate information, which shows how schools, school districts, demographic groups within schools and the state as a whole performed on tests or other programs.

No individual student’s data are transmitted to the feds, they say.

Lamm and Tonya Shellnutt of Billings, state director for Concerned Women for America, a group with conservative stands on many social issues, point to an agreement the state has with the organization devising the Common Core tests.

The agreement says the state must provide access to “any and all data collected at the state level.”

School officials again say those data are not on individual students, but rather collective data on test results.

“The only data that (the state) will transmit to the U.S. Education Department are aggregate data,” said Madalyn Quinlan, chief of staff for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau.

When asked how collection of aggregate data posed a threat to students’ privacy, Shellnutt said technology experts could use that data to extract and identify information on individual students.

Lamm and Shellnutt also say recent changes in rules related to the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) allow student data to be released without the consent of students or their parents – and that the same parameters are now written into state law.

“Before, it was protected; now, it’s not protected,” Shellnutt said.

FERPA does allow some parties to see a student’s records without the consent of the student, such as school officials, schools to which the student is transferring, officials auditing the school for evaluation purposes, financial aid organizations, accrediting organizations and organizations conducting studies for the school.

The state law, passed this year, merely says FERPA protections apply to student data collected by the state.

Federal and school officials say changes in FERPA rules clarified how student data are protected, both when they’re transferred among schools and used in school evaluations.

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