Posts Tagged ‘FERPA’

Favors and FERPA

April 12, 2013 1 comment

Several districts today received an odd request from the SDE. It seems somebody there wants to do a study on effective early reading strategies. Here is the message:

The State Department of Education (SDE) is undertaking a research project which will attempt to identify successful early literacy/reading strategies. To conduct this research the SDE needs student literacy/reading achievement data for grades K-3. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS) and Literacy First are two of the most widely implemented literacy assessments in Oklahoma, and both maintain databases of student records. DIBELS requires the SDE to gain district level permission to access student records.

Attached is a letter granting the SDE access to student DIBEL data from your district. Student privacy is an utmost concern. Student names will not be used in any research processes such as collecting, sorting, analyzing, and reporting. Nor will individual schools be identified in the final research results and reports.

Prior to beginning the research project, the Project Level Account Permission Form must be downloaded and signed by a district representative and returned to … the Office of Accountability and Assessment at the SDE.

It’s an interesting study, since the SDE has been actively pushing Literacy First during the current administration. The timing is interesting too, given that the state is selecting a vendor to promote statewide for K-5 remediation.

Oh, did I mention that this message was sent to principals, rather than superintendents? No So the superintendent will need to sign the form to turn over all of your student data from grades K-3. Don’t worry though…the SDE will protect the data.

Oh wait – I’ve heard this one before.

Here’s the text of the form to be signed by districts:

__________ hereby grants permission to Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Accountability and Assessment to have access to data stored in this district’s account on the DIBELS Data System ( Access and reports will be provided to Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Accountability and Assessment on a project level, district level, school level, class level, and individual student level.

Access encompasses all information stored in the DIBELS Data System, including but not limited to student names and ID numbers, demographic information, DIBELS scores, IDEL scores, DIBELS Next scores, easyCBM Math scores, and outcome measure scores.

However, access will be password-protected and confidential.

Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Accountability and Assessment’s   access is provided on a district level for all schools in the district.

__________ hereby represents and warrants that it has complied with all applicable provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and 34 CFR Part 99 necessary for it to authorize Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Accountability and Assessment to be provided with the aforementioned information by the University of Oregon.

The undersigned represents that he or she is authorized to execute this instrument on behalf of    __________.

If I read that correctly, the school district is on the hook for assuring that the data will be protected. They’re giving the SDE permission to share it with researchers (I thought they didn’t like researchers), but the schools are accountable for protecting the data.

We’ve piloted TLE, Roster Verification, and just about everything else under the sun this year. This sounds like a bad idea on its face. I don’t know about you, but I’m out of favors to give.

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Let’s Not Forget FERPA

September 27, 2012 2 comments

Since starting this blog five months ago, I have “met” several people who are just as passionate about high-quality public education as I am. Many are also quite well-informed in discussions of education policy. One of those is Melissa Abdo, who is worth following on Twitter and Facebook. Today, she spoke at Rep. Sally Kern’s interim study on Student Privacy and was kind enough to share her prepared remarks with me. I’ll let Melissa’s comments speak for themselves, but let me just say that we need not lose sight of this story. The SDE acted recklessly this summer in publishing student records, insisted that they were right in doing so, and only backtracked when the pressure within Barresi’s own Republican Party got too hot.  Her prepared comments are below:

OK House of Representatives: Interim Study- Privacy


Melissa Abdo- Coordinator, Tulsa Area PLAC (Parent Legislative Action Committee)

A parent led advocacy group which supports public education in Oklahoma.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today today and for discussing this very important topic. I am pleased to provide you a parent’s perspective on this very important subject.

There are two components to the collection of student data that give cause for concern:

The first is personally identifiable information being shared and used without parental consent.  I have to believe it would be very difficult to find any parent who, once made aware of this, would

support such a practice.

The second would be information which is shared by consent, but which may then be at risk to be misused, or used in a manner which was not anticipated.  We have seen a very recent example of this in Oklahoma.

Like what? What type of information are we collecting? What type of information are we asking from parents?  Name, address, birthdate, test scores.  If that weren’t enough, notice p. 3 states:

Please attach a separate document explaining in detail the rationale behind the appeal…..

This type of info included IEP information, transcripts, letters from school officials and family members detailing student’s learning challenges, medical conditions which impact academic performance, and explanations of private family circumstances.

On June 5th of this year, this information, about 25 Oklahoma students, was published on the State Department of Education website. It is heartbreaking to imagine parents submitted this information on behalf of their child, acting in what they believe to be  their child’s best interest- and it was made public.

As of this morning, the records of those 25 students remain posted on the agency’s website. They have been partially redacted, but the redacting is incomplete, and of poor quality with first and last initials and some students names still appearing in the documents. Who have we held accountable for this action?

Thankfully, the agency now uses a numbering system to identify students on the agenda, and they have not again published the students’ information packet.  But their position that no law was violated leaves the door open for the possibility.

Another misuse of information would be the cover sheet for the Appeal form. This was added after the media coverage of the publishing of records.  The last line is troubling….

My documentation and application will also be redacted and posted online.

As a parent, I would actually expect this cover sheet to say the opposite.  It should say “This information will be discussed in executive session.  Your documentation and application will be kept confidential.”

Last spring the Legislature unanimously passed a law allowing the for student’s right to appeal the state’s graduation testing requirements. Can a state agency put a condition on that right, by requiring you to agree to have private information posted online?

I was so upset this could happen, I contacted my legislators. I have contacted our State Supt. I have spoken to the SBE during public comments at their June 28th meeting.  I have been in contact with the U.S. Department of Education, Family Privacy Officer.

Here is the situation we find ourselves in: Information which is misused puts students at risk.  Their safety is at risk, and their dignity is at risk.  Oklahoma parents still do not have the answers to why this happened, how it happened, and what we will do to make sure it never happens again.

Parents are concerned that we want to collect more and more data, to be shared with more and more agencies, and available to more and more people. We don’t have a system to protect students from types of misuse we’ve already seen.

As a parent, I would please ask the Legislature to always err on the side of caution when dealing with anything that involves student information.

Thank you for your time today.

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Interim Studies

Even though the legislature has adjourned for the year, several interim studies will be done by our elected leaders to help chart the course for future bills. This is an annual occurrence, usually not amounting to much in terms of substance. However, with 2012 being an election year, we can expect for some of the studies to involve an element of playing to the base, rather than doing any actual legislating. This year, there are eleven studies relevant to common education on the House side, and four more on the Senate side.

House Interim Studies

  • 12-010 – Special Education
  • 12-011 – Native American Education
  • 12-013 – Performance Pay
  • 12-015 – Common Education – Funding
  • 12-016 – Common Education – Testing
  • 12-019 – National Board Certified Teachers
  • 12-024 – School Redistricting
  • 12-036 – Educational Administrative Efficiencies
  • 12-056 – Class Size
  • 12-063 – Student Rights to Privacy and Education Reform
  • 12-066 – Bridge to Literacy

Senate Interim Studies

  • 12-5 – Study school funding formulas.
  • 12-21 – Joint House/Senate study on facility funding for charter schools.
  • 12-25 – Study on creating administrative efficiencies and streamlining costs for schools with the goal of putting more money in the classroom.
  • 12-27 – Study of all sources of funding for Oklahoma common education and develop comparisons to other states.

I find it interesting that the House and Senate display the information differently. For example, you can download explanatory comments on the House studies. Study 12-010 is “A study of special education – solutions for the shortage of teachers, educational preparation for teachers (requirements for teachers).” I don’t really get a lot from that, but it’s more informative than the Senate studies, which only tell you as much as you see above.

Just looking at the two lists, I see that how we as a state pay for schools is a common them, as is a renewed interest in efficiency (unicameral legislature, anyone?). I think the charter school facility funding issue could get tricky, since Oklahoma is one of only eight states that do not provide facility funding for schools at the state level anyway.

Representative Sally Kern’s study on privacy could be worth a look too. The explanatory comments on the scope of the study say:

“The right for public school students to maintain privacy of their education records is protected by federal FERPA laws. Recent changes in these laws combined with Oklahoma’s effort to create a Statewide Longitudinal Database for public school students ages Kindergarten to age 20, can pose serious risks to the privacy of student records.”

My first thought is who needs a data system to violate FERPA? That’s what State Board of Education meetings are for. Seriously though, the way Rep. Kern is known for grandstanding and last year tried to get Oklahoma to pull out of Common Core, there’s no telling where this will go.

As these topics are studied, I’ll keep an eye out for updates. When reports are posted to the legislature’s website, I’ll add my own thoughts.

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June 28 State Board of Education Meeting

June 27, 2012 Comments off

The agenda for the June 28 State Board of Education meeting is online, and it includes more student graduation appeals. I notice that this time, the agenda lists each student with a numerical identifier – a case number if you will. Three weeks ago, I was one of a number of people who suggested that would be more appropriate than either listing student names or publishing their academic records. Meanwhile, the SDE insisted that what the had done was perfectly fine.

For whatever reason, they’ve now changed their tune. With students fighting for their futures, no one should complicate the important board discussions with FERPA violations. (Incidentally, signing a waiver to have the state board members view your records does not mean the SDE gets to publish them.)

This board meeting also happens to come on the heels that the SDE has failed to procure affordable training for school districts to implement new teacher and principal evaluations. That will be discussed late in the meeting.

I’ve heard from a number of people who plan to speak during the public comment period. This could get interesting.

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As Long As We’re Holding People Accountable

June 26, 2012 Comments off

The blog is getting an unusually high amount of traffic today. As someone who writes when I can (and still misses quite a few good blogging opportunities), I appreciate the fact that what I’m doing finds an audience. Take my post yesterday, for example. I was mad, and something needed to be said on behalf of the countless people impacted by the SDE’s failure to effectively procure training for one of their cornerstone reform efforts. While I didn’t think it was my best work, today has been my highest traffic day since starting the blog a little over two months ago.

So before I go on, I want to say thank you for the people who come back to read okeducationtruths, and also that I appreciate all the sharing that seems to be happening. I wouldn’t describe readership as viral, but it’s already more than I ever expected. And to my readers in Canada, Japan, France, and the UK today…WOW! That was truly unexpected!

And since I have your attention, I want to point out that the State Board of Education will be meeting Thursday morning at 9:30. At this time, the agenda for the meeting is still not posted. When it is, you’ll find the link here. And when I have a chance tomorrow, I’ll write more about it.

UPDATE: The agenda for tomorrow is now posted and under the hyperlink above.

One thing that is certain to be discussed is the way student graduation appeals were handled at the June 5th board meeting. I wrote about that at the time, aghast that the SDE would publish student records – including special education records – online with their board documentation.

I wasn’t the only one who wrote about that. So did Diane Ravitch. So did Parents Across America. And Education News. Their actions also bothered at least one legislator from Superintendent Barresi’s own party. There’s no other way to say it: releasing student records publicly has disgraced the SDE.

Here we are three weeks later, and people are still mad about it. They should be! I know some members of the board have already asked questions, and I expect they will continue to. Barresi is one of a breed of education reformers who like to extol the virtue of accountability. Well somebody needs to be held accountable for what happened. Whether through design or incompetence, the public forum created by the legislature for students to appeal for a high school diploma turned into an embarrassing circus. Students were bullied. Excuses were made. And somewhere, in the time and distance, nobody forgot that any of this happened!

This agency, under Barresi’s direction, squanders opportunity after opportunity to lead. Rather than capitalizing on the momentum from the 2010 election and effectively pursuing the agenda that got her elected in the first place, she – along with her top staff – insist upon steering the ship directly into the iceberg. Regardless of whether you’re for her or against her – embracing her reforms or resisting them – you have to admit that the performance of the SDE has been consistently disappointing.

Make sure the state board knows how you feel. They may surprise us all this Thursday.

We Weren’t Wrong – We Just Caved

Yesterday, I wrote about the State Board of Education meeting, at which several students from around Oklahoma had waiver requests heard. These students had not met the requirements for graduation under the ACE law, affecting Oklahoma seniors for the first time this year. The meeting and appeals that happened there were a matter of routine. The posting of student academic records that occurred was inexcusable.

Late today, the SDE announced that this will not be standard operation in the future, while defending its earlier actions. Legislative Democrats and Republicans alike piled on the criticism, which is hardly new. Scott Inman said it best: “Under the direction of Superintendent Janet Barresi, we see a lack of professionalism, competence and common courtesy. I am sorely disappointed that these students, who are earnestly trying to receive their diploma, will suffer as a consequence.”

SDE spokesperson Damon Gardenhire pledged to review “how this is handled in other states.” I assume by “other states,” he means Florida. This administration has serious Florida envy.

Oklahoma open records laws are different than other states. Other states simply don’t matter. School districts and state agencies fall under the same rules for transparency. While I join others such as Oklahoma Watchdog in praising the modernization of State Board of Education meetings, I cannot help but think that their own arrogance got in the way of this being a complete success.

You just don’t share student records with the public. Ever. School districts have figured out how to hold student hearings in closed session and vote in open session without violating kids’ privacy. If the SDE had not worked so hard the last 17 months to have less contact with school district leaders, they might already have a blueprint for this.

Or they could just search Google.

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