Monday, May 4, 2015

Where in the world is the Smarter Balanced privacy policy?

A few weeks ago I was in Palos Verdes, a suburb of Los Angeles, where I gave a presentation for Restore PV Education, a parent advocacy group, on the Common Core, testing and data privacy.

I spoke about how the PARCC and Smarter Balanced Common Core consortia are collecting loads of highly sensitive personal student information along with test scores. Yet the PARCC privacy policy is remarkably weak, and the SBAC exam given in California and twenty other states has no privacy policy at all-- or at least one that has been made publicly available.

Subsequently, it was reported that more than half of the Palos Verdes High School students opted out of the Smarter Balanced exam the week following my talk. Another article reported that Larry Vanden Bos, the Palos Verdes School Board President, had called the California Dept. of Education to ask for the SBAC privacy policy and received no response:

Vanden Bos said school officials have contacted the office of the state superintendent of schools, Tom Torlakson, to inquire about the privacy policy regarding the SBAC test, but were unsuccessful in getting answers.“We can’t even find out what their privacy policy is,” Vanden Bos said.

A little background: PARCC, the other major Common Core exam consortium,  approved an extremely porous privacy policy in Dec. 2013. I wrote about that policy here. At the time that PARCC released its policy, Smarter Balanced announced they would negotiate separate privacy policies with each of the SBAC states, according to EdWeek:

Smarter Balanced developed a brief data-privacy principle that guides its handling of student data. But beyond that, the consortium will create separate data-privacy agreements with each of its 25 member states to allow each to customize its practice in light of state law, regulation and practice, according to spokeswoman Jacqueline King. Those agreements are expected to be completed in the first few months of 2014, she said.

Yet to this day no parent in any of the SBAC states that I know of has been able to get their hands on such a policy or agreement.

Through the advocacy of Oregon parents, we have received copies of three relevant SBAC-related documents:

1- An undated SBAC “Data Privacy Agreement Communications Toolkit” that appears to have been created in Feb. 2014.
2- The AIR/Oregon contract, dated April 2014. (AIR is the major contractor for SBAC.)
3- The MOU between Oregon and SBAC/CRESST (the institute at UCLA that appears to be collecting, reporting and analyzing the data), from Aug. 2014.

The SBAC Data Privacy Toolkit contains several documents, including:

a) A set of talking points that states are advised to send out to parents who ask about data privacy;
b) A sample press release that states can release if and when they agree on a privacy policy with SBAC;
c) An FAQ with more information;
d) A sample Stakeholder letter;
e) A “resource” page with links to the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign and US Department of Education documents.

The talking points include the following statement:
“Protecting the privacy, security, and confidentiality of student data is a responsibility we take seriously. And with Smarter Balanced, our state retains control of student information. That’s why [INSERT STATE] developed a written agreement regarding the collection and use of personally identifiable student information.
• This agreement ensures that any organization working on the Smarter Balanced assessments will adhere to strict guidelines to safeguard student information.
The sample press release includes the following draft language:
[INSERT STATE] Approves Student Data Privacy Agreement for Common Core Assessments
Agreement Will Safeguard Student Information, Ensure [INSERT STATE] Maintains Control of Data
The FAQ part of the package includes this:
What type of information WILL Smarter Balanced collect?

• An identification number (the Consortium recommends that this be different from the state’s official unique student identifier so that only the state can link back to a student’s official education record);
• Race/ethnicity, gender, grade level, school attended;
• Student eligibility for English language development services, or special education services provided to the student;
• Student eligibility for Title I compensatory programs;
• Smarter Balanced test scores, achievement levels, and responses to test questions.
If a state elects to have Smarter Balanced generate reports of student assessment results, the consortium also will collect student name and date of birth. States may choose to manage that function through another organization. In either case, states can impose guidelines to safeguard those data.
What information won’t Smarter Balanced collect?
Smarter Balanced will never collect identifying information (such as student name and date of birth) unless specifically directed to do so by a member state. Further, Smarter Balanced will not collect information unnecessary to the assessment system, such as:
• Names of parents;
• Student or parent email address;
• Telephone numbers;
• Student or parent Social Security numbers;
• Parent or student addresses;
• Parent or student medical information.
It also says the following:
Smarter Balanced will not release personally identifiable information. Under limited circumstances, such as for research studies deemed important by states in the consortium, Smarter Balanced may provide access to student data that have been altered so that students’ identities cannot be recognized. Requests for this type of information will be reviewed by member states and each state must individually approve any release of data.
The states of Washington, Nevada, Illinois and others reproduce many of these same talking points but none of them so far have made their privacy agreement with Smarter Balanced public or available to parents upon request– as far as we know.

If you are from one of the SBAC states, please let us know if you've seen it by emailing us at

If not, I suggest parents should ask their State Education Departments for it and/or FOIL it.  Here are the SBAC contact names and emails in each of the 21 participating states, plus the Virgin Islands and the Indian Bureau of Affairs.  Here are sample Freedom of Information letters for every state and instructions.

The powerpoint I gave to Palos Verdes parents with one slide added is below.  thanks, Leonie

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