The following letter is reposted with permission from Libertas Institute, a Utah-based conservative think-tank. It was given to members of the Utah legislature two weeks ago.
It concerns the State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) which was implemented in Utah –and in every state, thanks to federal bribery– just a few years ago.
Each SLDS runs according to federal specs and is interoperable. Thus, the fifty SLDS systems function together as a “de facto” federal stalking system on children, college students, and the members of the U.S. workforce. Every state’s “voluntary” SLDS feeds its data about citizens to the federal EdFacts data exchange.
Libertas Institute points out that SLDS was created and is being used without voter approval or representation; there was no legislative knowledge or debate, and there has been no effort to promote parental knowledge or to acquire parental/student consent for this massive, lifelong data mining project.
Action step: after you read this letter, please contact your legislators (here is contact info for Utah legislators, the governor and D.C. legislators) to put them on the task of creating, at the very least, an immediate, definite, parental-opt-out bill.
September 28, 2015
To: Members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee
Senators and Representatives,
The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) will be in your meeting tomorrow, among other
things, to explain the Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS)—a large database that
stores a lengthy list of data points on each child in Utah’s public schools. We are concerned
with how this database was set up and how it’s being used; as we are unable to attend the
meeting, we wish to brieﬂy outline key concerns for your consideration.
We allege that USOE created, and now operates, this database without any legislative
authorization or oversight. Further, the federal funding USOE has obtained in order to build
and operate the database has required them to make certain policy commitments, as you’ll
see below, that exceed their authority and circumvented any public discussion on the matter.
This letter outlines three actions of which you should be aware:
1. The “Four Assurances” promised by Governor Huntsman
2. A grant received by USOE to build the federally compliant SLDS
3. The 2015 grant announced just last week to further develop and utilize the SLDS
The “Four Assurances” promised by Governor Huntsman
On April 15, 2009, Governor Jon Huntsman signed an Application for Initial Funding under
the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program, submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.
The purpose of this application was to obtain federal “stimulus” dollars; here is the
explanation from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE):
The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) program is a new one-time appropriation of $53.6 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Of the amount appropriated, the U. S. Department of Education will award governors approximately $48.6 billion by formula under the SFSF program in exchange for a commitment to advance essential education reforms…
Without legislative authorization or guarantee, the Governor made four assurances to the
USDOE—a required step in order to receive any many. Those assurances were as follows:
1. The State of Utah will take actions to “improve teacher effectiveness” and “address
inequities in the distribution of highly qualiﬁed teachers between high- and low-poverty
2. The State of Utah will “establish a longitudinal data system”
3. The State will –
1. Enhance the quality of the academic assessments it administers…
2. Comply with the requirements… related to the inclusion of children with
disabilities and limited English proﬁcient students in State assessments, the
development of valid and reliable assessments for those students, and the
provision of accommodations that enable their participation in State assessments;
(Inclusion Assurance) and
3. Take steps to improve State academic content standards and student academic
achievement standards consistent with section 6401(e)(1)(A)(ii) of the America
COMPETES Act. (Improving Standards Assurance)
4. The State will ensure compliance with the requirements of section 1116(b)(7)(C)(iv) and
section 1116(b)(8)(B) of the ESEA with respect to schools identiﬁed under these sections.
(Supporting Struggling Schools Assurance)
Thus, without any legislation to back it up, the federal government was promised signiﬁcant
policy reforms in the state: common education standards (“Common Core”), new
assessments, teacher evaluations, school grading, and a comprehensive data collection system.
All of this was done in pursuit of money; less than a year later, U.S. Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan announced that Utah had been showered with $741,979,396 through the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Utah lawmakers—and thus the public at large—were left out of the loop.
A grant received by USOE to build the federally compliant SLDS
Under the same Recovery (“stimulus”) Act, USOE was given a grant of $9.6 million to create
the Utah Data Alliance—a longitudinal database that was fully compliant with USDOE
requirements. While data systems had obviously existed previous to this grant, this one was
geared, as USOE wrote, primarily towards satisfying questions and requirements “asked by
the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Institute of Educational Sciences
(IES), SLDS grants program; the ARRA, Race to the Top (RttT); and the State Fiscal
Stabilization Fund (SFSF) assurances”—all federal mandates tied to funding USOE desired.
The Utah legislature did not authorize the creation of the SLDS, to our knowledge. The only
statutory references we have been able to identify refer to the already-existing database. For
example, Senate Bill 82 in 2013 (which passed and was signed into law) had this language:
(e) “Utah Student Record Store” means a repository of student data collected
from LEAs as part of the state’s longitudinal data system that is:
(i) managed by the Utah State Office of Education;
(ii) cloud-based; and
(iii) accessible via a web browser to authorized LEA users.
(2) (a) The State Board of Education shall use the robust, comprehensive data
collection system maintained by the Utah State O*ce of Education…
According to USOE, a statewide longitudinal database—mostly complaint with federal
standards—had been in operation since 2005.
The 2015 grant announced just last week to further develop and utilize the SLDS
On September 17, 2015, the Institute of Education Sciences—a project housed within the U.S.
Department of Education—announced that Utah was awarded a grant under the Statewide
Longitudinal Data System Grant Program in the amount of _____AMOUNT______, along
with potential continuation grants to provide more funding in the years ahead.
USOE’s application for this grant , obtained through an open records request, sheds light on
the alarming nature of this project. In order to suggest legislative authorization for the SLDS
and Utah Data Alliance, USOE argues that “The Utah State Legislature awarded UDA
partners [individual state agencies] ongoing appropriations to support sustainability of the
original infrastructure (e.g., database, researchers, technicians, project director, and technical
contracts), which demonstrates the state’s commitment to the work and
mission of the UDA data warehouse.” In other words, narrow appropriations for data projects
in state agencies is being interpreted as blanket authority for, and support of, the overall
SLDS project. We feel this a misguided and unreasonable inference.
Further, USDOE’s Request for Applications document speciﬁes that “a successful data system
rests upon a governance structure involving both State and local stakeholders in the system’s
design and implementation.” However, USOE’s application admits that only “A memorandum
of understanding governs the partnership. A governance plan documents the policies of the
partnership and is continuously updated and reﬁned to address emerging governance issues.”
An MOU, which can continuously evolve free from vetted processes and public input, is
insufficient to govern the requirements of such a large database—one that has signiﬁcant
privacy and security implications.
There are many disconcerting statements and policy priorities outlined in USOE’s
application, but our main concern here is that the real “stakeholders” have been completely
left out of the loop. From information we have gathered, the State Board of Education was
unaware of this grant application. No vote was taken on the issue. No legislative
authorization was given to compile this information on every child, make the information
available to state government agencies (including “individual-level data in the UDA data
warehouse”), or provide data to third parties. Most importantly, the true stakeholders are
almost totally unaware that this database even exists; Utah law recognizes that “the state’s
role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.”
You may be aware that Libertas Institute organized a lawsuit late last year against the State
Board of Education over its rushed adoption of Common Core, done in an e*ort to obtain
federal money under the Race to the Top grant. (A hearing is scheduled in a few weeks.) We
feel that a pattern exists within USOE, whereby education policy is dictated not with input
from parents and teachers, or even legislators or the State Board of Education, but by USOE’s
seemingly insatiable appetite for federal grants, which inevitably come with signiﬁcant
If “strings” are to exist, then they must be openly discussed, debated, and authorized—not
agreed upon behind closed doors with the unscrutinized stroke of a pen.
You as legislators have been circumvented and deemed largely irrelevant on this issue.
Signiﬁcant education policies are being adopted and implemented without public input. We
encourage you to take an active interest in this issue and bring transparency and scrutiny to
USOE grant applications and the policies that necessarily follow.
President, Libertas Institute
785 E. 200 S., Suite 2, Lehi, UT 84043
1 Application for Initial Funding under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program, http://
“State Fiscal Stabilization Fund,” U.S. Department of Education, March 7, 2009, http://
“UTAH STUDENT RECORDS EXCHANGE,” https://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/pdf/
“INFORMATION RELATED TO FY15 GRANTS,” http://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/
“Enhancing Utah Data Alliance College and Career and Evaluation and Research Capabilities
5 through Web Technology,” http://libertasutah.org/drop/slds_2015.pdf
Florida, which bought and uses Utah’s SAGE/AIR test, has taken the phenomenally reasonable step of assessing its assessment: testing the standardized test– something that Utah has not done.
Florida hired Alpine Testing and EdCount to assess its (and Utah’s) assessment instrument –to see if the SAGE measures what it claims to measure. The simple question was: Is the test valid?
The answer that came back was “NO.” The independent company, Alpine Testing and EdCount, who testified at length to the Florida legislature, said that SAGE is not measuring what it claims to measure. (See that legislative testimony here.)
Now, two members of Utah’s largest school district (Alpine) have published a letter summarizing Florida’s findings on SAGE. Brian Halladay and Wendy Hart wrote:
“What Alpine Testing said in their comments to Florida is astounding. I have outlined some key points from the video:
At 44:50- Many items found in the test didn’t align with the standard that was being tested.
At 47:70: Test scores should only be used at an aggregate level.
At 48:15 – They recommend AGAINST using test scores for individual student decisions.
At 1:01:00 – They admit that “test scores should not be used as a sole determinant in decisions such as the prevention of advancement to the next grade, graduation eligibility, or placement in a remedial course.”
At 1:20:00 – “There is data than can be looked at that shows that the use of these test scores would not be appropriate”.
Alpine Testing was the only company that applied to perform the validity study for Florida. Once awarded the contract, they teamed with EdCount, the founder of which had previously worked for AIR.
So, what we have is a questionably independent group stating that this test should not be used for individual students, but it’s ok for the aggregate data to be used for schools and teacher evaluations. If this sounds absurd, it’s because it is. If it’s been shown that this test isn’t good for students, why would we be comfortable using it for the grading or funding of our schools and teachers? The sum of individual bad data can’t give us good data. Nor should we expect it to.
What more evidence is needed by our State Board, Legislature or Governor to determine that our students shouldn’t be taking the SAGE test? This test is a failure. How much longer will our children and our state (and numerous other states) spend countless time and resources in support of a failed test, or teaching to a failed test?…” (Read the whole letter here.)
Why is this so important?
Any test– a pregnancy test, a drug test, a breathalizer test– should probably actually measure what it claims to measure. People should be able to solidly trust a test that’s used as a foundation for labeling, rewarding and punishing students, teachers and schools.
If there’s no validity test, SAGE is nothing more than a gamble with children’s, teacher’s, and taxpayer’s time, money and futures. Without validity, we’ve just conscripted every public school student in the state to be unpaid, uninformed, academic and psychological lab rats.)
Fact: Utah stubbornly refused to do a validity test on SAGE, despite pleading, prodding, and even a $100,000 reward offer for proof of validity testing –yet, as it turns out, that’s okay now. Since Florida uses Utah’s SAGE test, Florida’s research on SAGE directly, unquestionably, reflects on Utah’s test. So we finally have a Utah validity test. And SAGE failed its test.
If you haven’t already done so, opt your children out.