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school_lockers120Who owns Lansing students' private data?  Should it remain inside the local school district or shared state-wide?  Lansing School Superintendent Chris Pettograsso reported Monday on a New York State Education Department (NYSED) plan to collect and aggregate student data state-wide that opponents say may compromise student privacy.  The plan calls for districts across the state to enter testing data into one of three third-party data entry systems that would then be aggregated into inBloom, another third-party system that would provide the data dashboard for the state.  Pettograsso says that the plan is already being challenged in court.

"That's what I'm reading about," Pettograsso says, "that there is a conflict of interest for the data and privacy and how much control the State has over student data and demographics.  I'm learning a lot more about it right now."

The plan calls for all New York school districts to choose from among three vendors.  Pettograsso says she thinks Lansing will use a Charlottesville, Virginia based company called DataCation.  She says that districts will be required to send data to the vendor for the first year of the program at no charge, and at this stage she thinks the program would be optional after that: if a school district wants to continue to participate it will pay for the service, or it could opt out.

Once the data has been sent from the district to the vendor, it would be sent to inBloom, which would display it in a format that will populate the EngageNY Web site.  Pettograsso says that while inBloom charges an annual fee of between two and five dollars per student, she believes that charge will be paid by the state, not by individual school districts.  The EngageNY system provides tools for teachers that are part of the implementation of the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards, Teacher and Leader Effectiveness, and Data-Driven Instruction programs that are part of the New York State Board of Regents Reform Agenda.  But controversy has been growing about inBloom on the grounds that its data mining collects students' and parents' personal information and fears that information is not secure enough.

Pettegrasso says she is still learning about the program and its possible impacts on Lansing, but has identified two issues beyond that of invasion of privacy.  First, she worries that continuing after the first year could cost annual fees of thousands of dollars.  Secondly, she says that the district already uses a data system called School Tool that provides all the information the district needs to evaluate performance and identify challenge areas in its programs.

"There is no charge for the first year because it was part of the Race To The Top grant a few years ago, so they would implement a data driven testing system for all school districts," Pettograsso explains.  "I believe after the first year it will be optional for school districts to buy into it or not.  Then if you do use it, it will be an expense to the district.  I don't believe that we really need this.  We're not going to be using it.  We're going to see what it can offer us and evaluate it, of course, but I believe we have what we need.  So I hope it won't be an additional cost to us next year and that we won't have to use it."

inBloom is a not-for-profit company that is funded by the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation of New York.  It provides shared technology resources they want to provide to states that could integrate data to be used to monitor and improve teaching effectiveness.  The company says that student data privacy is a top priority, but backlash from parents has been great.

A similar program in Jefferson County, Colorado was recently shut down after parents challenged a pilot program the county was running at the time.  Parents said that the county's participation with inBloom constituted an invasion of privacy because they said the company collects hundreds of data points including names, disciplinary status of students, addresses, religious affiliations, household income and health record data.  Another lawsuit was recently filed in the New York State Supreme Court to halt the program in New York City.

NYSSBA's Director of Governmental Relations David A. Little testified last week that the goals of protecting students' privacy and a data system such as that provided by inBloom are not incompatible as long as the system is designed to comply with federal and state privacy laws.  But opponents worry about Web site security and challenges the notion that their student and family data needs to go outside their own school districts.

The first data to be entered would be this year's New York State testing information. Pettograsso says that old data for current students and past students will not be entered into this system.

She says that NYSSBA will be polling its members to determine whether the organization should support the program or challenge it legally.  She alerted the Lansing School Board Monday that while the district has complied by signing up with DataCation, that board members should learn more about the program and court challenges.  She promised a more detailed presentation on the issue at a future board meeting.  If NYSSBA does decide to challenge the program districts across the state will be involved.  Legal challenges are already coming from New York City, Long Island and the Capital Region.

"They are coming together to say what is the point of this?" Pettograsso says.  "What are you doing with this information, and is this information going to be sold to anybody?  The information is tied to state tests and is more information than just trend analysis.  I think our board is going to be asked at some point if they would like to be part of the legal proceedings against New York State.  NYSSBA wants to see where school districts fall and what boards of education believe."

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