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Alpine School Board Members Speak Out For Student Privacy   5 comments

Alpine-Board-10x8-1024x819

 

Three remarkable Alpine School Board Members: Wendy Hart (front left) Brian Halladay (standing, middle)  and Paula Hill (front, right) have written an open letter on student privacy, citing documented realities (contracts, documents and laws) that boldly stand for student privacy and parental rights, against Common Core SAGE/AIR testing.  The letter stands tall against statements from State Associate Superintendent Judy Park and the Utah State Office of Education that claim all is well with student privacy in Utah schools.

Hats off to Hart, Halladay and Hill for speaking up despite pressure to go along in silence with the decisions or positions held at the state level.

Before I post the letter, here’s a little background:

Before Common Core testing even began, Utah officially dropped out of SBAC (a federally funded Common Core test maker) but then immediately picked up, as a replacement, test maker  AIR  (American Institutes for Research– also  federally approved, but not federally funded; Common Core-aligned; a test maker that specializes in psychometrics and behavioral testing,  prioritizes promoting the LGTB philosophy –and is officially partnered with SBAC!)  Many Utah parents are opting their children out of these tests, and state level officials are desperately trying to persuade the population that there’s no reason to opt out.

Statements promoting and approving AIR and SAGE, by Assistant Superintendent Judy Park, have been rebutted and even publically debated before– but this new letter stands very, very  tall, shedding much more light on the student privacy dangers of SAGE/AIR and highlighting the lack of Utah laws that protect an individuals’ ownership over his/her own data.

 

Here’s the letter:

 

September 18, 2014

 

Dr. Judy Park

Utah State Office of Education

Dear Dr. Park,

 

Thank you for taking the time to address some of the issues with AIR and SAGE testing.  We especially appreciate your citations of the contract.  In the interest of openness and transparency, we have a point of clarification, as well as some follow-up questions.

To begin, a point of clarification.  Your letter is directed to Superintendent Henshaw who communicated some of our concerns about SAGE and AIR to you.  In your letter, you indicate that “False, undocumented and baseless allegations need to cease.”  We wish to clarify that the concerns expressed by Dr. Henshaw were not coming from him, and, as such, your directive would not be to him but to those of us on the board and our constituents who are raising questions, based on our reading of the AIR contract with USOE.  Because Dr. Henshaw reports to the Alpine School Board and not the other way around, any directive for Dr. Henshaw to rein in these ‘allegations’ from board members or constituents would be inappropriate.  We can appreciate that you are troubled by this, but we would recommend that more information and more discussion would be a preferable way of resolving concerns, as opposed to suggesting that concerned representatives and their consitutents simply remain silent.

So, in that spirit of openness, we have the following clarifications and follow-up questions.

We begin by addressing the sections of the AIR contract cited in your letter of August 14.  It was very much appreciated because these are the same sections of the contract that we have studied.  We were hopeful that there would be additional insight.  Unfortunately, we did not find any assurance in the pages listed.

I-96 – I-98:  This section nicely addresses the physical, network, and software security for the server and test items.  However, the only reference to AIR employees, their ability to access or use any data is left to “Utah’s public records laws, FERPA, and other federal laws.”  FERPA, as many know, has been modified by the US Dept of Education to allow for the sharing of data without parental knowledge or consent as long as it can be justified as an ‘educational program’. Additionally, FERPA only contains penalties for those entities receiving federal funds.  Since Utah is paying directly for SAGE testing, FERPA is a meaningless law in this regard.  Additionally, Utah’s public records laws appear to only address the openness of public records, but are insufficient when it comes to privacy or use of data, including that of a minor.  If there are robust privacy laws in Utah’s public records laws, we would appreciate additional citations.  Please cite the other federal laws that protect the privacy of our students.

I-61:  Addresses the technical protocols for the data transfer, as well as encryption of passwords.  Again, this doesn’t address those who are given access by AIR to the data for whatever purpose.

I-72 – I-73:  Addresses the security of those contractors who will be manually scoring during the pilot testing.  This addresses a particular third-party in a particular role, but not AIR as an entity or its employees, other than this particular instance.

I-85 – I-86:  Addresses the issues of users and roles for the database and USOE updates.  This limits the appropriate access to those of us in Utah, based on whether we are teachers, principals, board members, USOE, etc.  Again, this does not address anything about AIR as an entity or its employees.

While all these security precautions are necessary, and we are grateful they are included, they do nothing to address the particular issues that were raised at the August 12, 2014 Alpine School Board Meeting.  Some of our concerns are as follows:

1)  Prior to the Addendum from March 2014 (for which we are grateful) there was no prohibition on sharing data with a third-party.  As indicated, the changes to FERPA would allow AIR to legally share data with a third-party as long as that sharing was for ‘an educational program’ without parental knowledge or consent.  As such, the addendum now allows for that sharing only with the USOE’s consent.  We are still concerned that parents are not asked to give consent and may not have knowledge of their student’s data being shared.

2) AIR itself is a research firm dedicated to conducting and applying the best behavioral and social science research and evaluation.  As such, they are involved with data collection and evaluation. In the contract and addendum cited, there is nothing that prohibits how AIR or its subsidiary organizations may use, query, analyze or access any or all student data from the SAGE tests in Utah.  They would have access to many data sets from many entities.  They also would have multiple on-going research projects.  There is no prohibition on what inquiries, research or analysis can be done on the data from SAGE testing.  As long as AIR does not profit from the data or share with a third-party without the USOE’s consent, the data is managed by AIR and available for access.  What are the methods in place to prevent AIR from accessing the data for additional research or analysis?  AIR does not need to share the data with a third-party to violate the privacy of a student or a set of students.  However, since they control and manage the database, there is nothing that would prevent this access.

3) There are no prohibitions in the contract regarding behavioral data.  While we realize Mr. Cohen has said the contract does not call for gathering or evaluating behavioral data, and that AIR is not inclined to do so, there are, again, no prohibitions or penalties associated with gathering or evaluating behavioral data.  State law allows for the use of behavioral data in the year-end testing.  So, there are no legal prohibitions on the use or collection of behavioral data.  Since behavioral research is the primary mission of AIR, as indicated by its mission statement, it is a concern for parents.  If AIR has no desire to collect behavioral data as part of the SAGE testing, it should state so explicitly in a legally-binding manner.

4) Many parents have, legally, opted out of SAGE testing for their students.  As such, why is AIR receiving any information on these students?  Parents feel it is a grave violation of their trust by USOE that any data the USOE has received from the schools can be input into the SAGE database, not to mention the State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS).  There must, at a minimum, be a way for parents to opt out of all sharing of their student’s dat with AIR and the SLDS.  At what point, if any, will student data be purged from the AIR database?  What is the method for demonstrating the data has been properly purged?

Additionally, we appreciate the response of Mr. Cohen to our concerns.  Based on his response, we have the following questions.

1)  Please list the “express purposes” for which the release, sharing or sale of data is not prohibited, per contract.

2) What third parties are AIR “explicitly permitted by the State of Utah” to provide data to?

3) What research has AIR been requested and directed by the Utah State Office of Education to conduct?

4) What entity (or entities) has AIR been authorized by the State of Utah to release data to?

5) Please list the source of the contract that states that AIR is prohibited from releasing data to the federal government.

6) What entity (or entities) have been designated by the USOE to receive data from AIR?

7) The memo does not address companies owned or operated by AIR, which would not be considered third-parties.  Please state, per contract, where AIR does not share data within related party entities.

Finally, we have the following questions related to the validity and reliability of the SAGe testing.  We understand that this information would not be protected by copyright, and therefore, could be provided to us, as elected officials.

1. Normative Sample Details (who took the test)

2. Coefficient Alpha Reliability

3. Content description Validity

4. Differential Item Function Analysis

5. Criterion Prediction Validity

6. Construct Identification Validity

7. Other types of validity scales/constructs that are applicable only to CAT test designs

We appreciate the opportunity to discuss this more in the future.  As those who are responsible to the parents of this district, we feel it is imperative that our concerns are addressed.  And, when all is said and done, it is most important that parents have the opportunity to protect whatever student information they feel is necessary.  Just because parents decide to educate their children in our public school system does not mean that we, as a state government, are entitled to whatever information about their children we feel in necessary.  Parents are still, by state law, primarily responsible for the education and the upbringing of their children.  As such, their wishes and their need to protect information on their students is paramount.  As members of the Alpine School Board, we must represent the different views and concerns of all the parents in our area.  For those who have no concerns, then you may proceed as usual.  For those who do have concerns, it is incumbent on us to raise these questions and to obtain the most accurate information possible.

Thank you for your time, and we look forward to more information in the future.

 

Sincerely,

 

Brian Halladay

ASD4

Wendy Hart

ASD2

Paula Hill

ASD1

 

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I wish every Utah parent, teacher, student and principal read this letter– and took action!

The time has long passed for blind trust in Dr. Park, in the State Office of Education and in the State School Board. Surely, power holders –in the legislature, in district administrative offices, and in the governor’s office who read this letter– will finally act.

Share this letter!

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Common Core Lawsuit: Teachers and Parents v. Utah State School Board   2 comments

 

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So many Utahns have become so hopping mad* about Common Core in our schools that a few weeks ago, Governor Herbert publically announced that the state Attorney General will now conduct a “thorough legal review” of the rapidly adopted, unvetted education and testing standards.  He’s got a public input website  on the academic aspects of the Common Core.  But his main question is:  do the standards represent “federal entanglement”?

Well, that seems like an easy question  for the Attorney General!  Just read Utah’s Race to the Top application, with its federal points system based, in large part, on a state agreeing to take on the Common Core.  Or check out Obama’s four pillars of education reform.  Or check out Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s speeches on the subject.  Or read the federal definition of “college and career ready standards.”  Not hard.

But federal entanglement’s not the only question.  A new Libertas Institute lawsuit  asks this key question:  Did the Board violate state law in rushing through Common Core’s adoption without legally required input from parents, teachers, employers, superintendents and school boards?  At least one public school has openly declared that not even slightly were they consulted.  And they’re not happy about it.

The lawsuit asks for a declaratory judgment, saying that the Board failed to consult with local school boards, superintendents, teachers, employers and parents as required by law (53A-1-402.6).  It asks for an order enjoining the Board from further implementing Common Core, from requiring schools to implement Common Core, and from enforcing Common Core.

I am happy to be one of the parents/educators who are the plaintiffs in this case, and grateful to Libertas Institute for footing the bill.

Go, fight, win.

 

libertas

 

 —————————————————————————————–

* Remember to attend  if at all possible this month’s public state school board meeting and the big protest THIS WEEK at the State Board of Education offices in downtown Salt Lake City:  August 8th, at 9 a.m.  Many Utahns against Common Core will be protesting with signs outside the building while others will be making public comment later, during the public comment segment around 10:30 inside the building.  See you there.

Reader Responses to Utah High School Student’s Screen Shots   14 comments

The Utah teenager and her mother who decided to take a stand last week by taking screen shots and sharing them with the public  –photos of the SAGE/Common Core writing test,  hit some raw nerves.  Over a hundred comments were added here, with more posted on Facebook, and almost a hundred thousand views of those screen shots were logged in a few days.

Why? Reasons ranged and tempers flared:   Was the act of sharing screen shots heroic– or was it cheating? Was the test itself fair –or manipulative?  Should the student be failed and the teacher who didn’t see or stop her be fired?  Was the blog posting itself fair or manipulative?  Is this all evidence of an improved education system that creates deep-thinking students, or the very opposite?

A few of the responders words are worth repeating and are posted below.

———

Former teacher Laureen Simper wrote:

“Author Ray Bradbury could have used a SAGE test with a prompt like this, in his book “Farenheit 451”. As another commenter mentioned, Bradbury wrote:  ‘There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches.’

“I have questioned the motives of central educational planners for years, ever since I had school-aged children. That was when I learned about John Dewey, when “Common Core” was going by the name du jour: “Outcome-Based Education“. That was when I read the original Humanist Manifesto.    John Dewey was one of the original drafters/signers of what I recognized as an anti-God constitution.  I learned that secular humanism and progressivism were the idealogies driving education “reform”.

“Progressive central planners continually repackage education reform when “the ignorant masses” figure out what the true motive is: to manage the lives of those ignorant masses, because they’re seen as too ignorant to manage their  lives for themselves. Sadly, as long as a shell game can continually be played with shifting appellations, all the sleepy little frogs go back to sleep, as our nice warm bath continues to heat up.

“The agenda to shift public thinking away from self-government started at least as early as the early 20th century. The Intercollegiate Socialist Society was founded in 1905. Its original members believed that 60 college campuses were enough leavening to turn social thinking towards government dependence.

“Originally, the movement focused on higher education. Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton, said that the goal of higher education should be for a young man to come out of university as unlike his father as possible.

“But the plan was not limited to changing graduates of higher education. John Dewey, a few decades later, said that the influences of the home and family are properly challenged (by “steadying” ) in the government schools. This came from the “father” of modern education.

“Those who have not connected the same dots will disagree.  But I’ve read what I’ve read and heard what I’ve heard – straight from the mouths of the arrogant progressive central planners.

“Their motives are not pure. They plan to manage our lives of the ignorant masses, because they think that people are  too stupid or too lazy to govern themselves.  And the education reformers’ answer is not Jefferson’s answer:   ‘…If we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. ‘ –Thomas Jefferson, 1820

“Education reformers today, from Dewey to Coleman, seem to feel that the best answer is to wrest that self-government from the people.

“It is a big deal that a 16-year-old kid risked photographing test questions, knowing what kind of retribution could be brought to bear if she were caught.

“It is a big deal that a mother, equally aware of that retribution, would get those photos into the hands of a group of warriors who have connected the same dots I have connected – putting these test prompts into a completely different, stark, sobering context.

“Those who are screaming that anti-Common Core crusaders are taking these test questions out of context need to ask themselves if it is not they, themselves, who are taking them out of context.”    –Laureen Simper

——————

Another commenter, Michelle, wrote:

“And this is how they test “critical thinking skills”: “Your argument must be based on ideas, concepts, and information that can be determined through analysis of the four passages.” Students must base their argument on four passages alone. No room for their own ideas. No place for the inclusion of information outside of those four passages. No opportunity to question the ideas and information given in the passages.

“One of the selections is a blog post. Yes, a blog post. “Why playing videogames better than reading books.” (That wasn’t a typo; that is the title of the post as written on the actual blog site.)  I wonder if they don’t refer to Wikipedia articles as well in other test questions.

“The other selection is from Steven Johnson’s book, “Everything Bad is Good for You” which, according to a review by The Guardian, asserts that TV, film, and video games make us smarter, yet the assertion fails miserably to back up those claims with actual science.

“So apparently, when Common Core proponents speak of “critical thinking skills” they don’t actually mean teaching children to think for themselves or to critically analyze arguments presented in selections of informational text or even to carefully select reliable and credible sources on which to gather information to form arguments. Instead, they mean teaching children to write argumentative essays by cutting and pasting information and ideas from blog posts and pseudo-science.

Our poor children.”

—————

A dad named Jared wrote:

“I review hundreds of ELA books & tests every year.  I am seeing these kinds of two-sided “opinion” reading/writing assignments all the time now. Here’s how to recognize it:
– ‘Two sides’ of a controversial/political/social/environmental/values-oriented subject are presented.
– The material is billed as “balanced” because “two sides” of an issue are presented.
– The student reads both sides, then writes an essay promoting one side.

“… these kinds of “opinion” writing assignments are subject to bias by nature, because the author/publisher controls the entire argument.  In the examples I have seen, the author typically gives a reasonable-sounding Opinion A, and an unreasonable (straw man) Opinion B. The child naturally gravitates toward the more reasonable-sounding argument, and thinks she logically came to her own conclusion.

“If test question writers wanted to test a child’s writing ability, while avoiding straw men and indoctrination (intended or otherwise), they could simply avoid controversial subjects for their material.  Why don’t they?”

Standing Room Only at Utah State Capitol’s Stop Common Core Meeting   3 comments

Legislators heard two and a half hours of public testimonies at last night’s Stop Common Core meeting at the Utah State Capitol Building which packed the Hall of Governors to overflowing.

Legislators claimed the first few rows of seats, and at least 500 people filled every chair while many people had to stand along the walls. The crowd and the legislators listened to two and a half hours of testimonies from teachers, parents and students.

Hundreds who wanted to speak out against Common Core were prevented by time. (Their written or filmed testimonies will be uploaded later at Utahns Against Common Core.)

Highlights:

— Teenage students speaking out against Common Core.
— Teachers, both current and retired, speaking out against Common Core.
— A licensed child psychologist speaking out against Common Core.
— Three (out of the seven members) of the Alpine School Board, Utah’s largest school district, each speaking out against Common Core, especially noting concerns about the common core-aligned standardized testing which ends liberty and local control.
— A legislator who rose to the enthusiastically cheering crowd and said, “We hear you. And we are going to work.”

The event was filmed and will be viewable soon. It was also covered by Channel 4 and by the Deseret News.

http://www.abc4.com/mostpopular/story/Utahns-gather-at-the-State-Capitol-to-voice/IA79JikQ2EmeaAnaG-M6LA.cspx

Ogden Examiner Covers GOP Rejection of Common Core While Tribune and Deseret News are Silent   6 comments

The Ogden Examiner covered the Utah GOP’s  rejection of the Common Core at Saturday’s convention. But Utah’s main newspapers, the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, have not yet covered the story.

That lack of coverage speaks volumes.

Discussing Common Core is now akin to bringing up religion, sex or politics at family reunions.  People have such varied, and intense, beliefs about it that it can get a little awkward.

WHAT DO TEACHERS WANT?

Almost whispering, a woman in my town came up to me this week and quietly said thank you.  She said that she and the other educators are grateful for those who speak out.  Most of those currently employed in schools don’t dare say anything against common core, fearing ridicule or job loss.

There are exceptions.  David Cox  is currently teaching; Margaret Wilkin, just retired;  and others nationally have spoken out.  And there’s even me.  I’m also a currently credentialed teacher, but I’m homeschooling instead of sending my ten year old (and myself) into the schools of Common Core.  Will the USSB renew my credential?  Will schools hire me in the future when they know I disagree so strongly with the Common Core agenda?  I wonder.

I spoke with a member of the Utah State School Board this week about teachers’ feelings about Common Core, asking if the board would be willing to create an official USOE anonymous survey for teachers like the one Utahns Against Common Core is doing, in order to receive honest, two-sided feedback about Common Core.  The board member told me that would be pointless because “there are always teachers who are angry.”  Those angry ones must not taken too seriously.

This makes me think that teachers need to make it clear to the USOE/USSB that the angry few are not the minority or the “always angry” types.  I suggest that teachers write letters, anonymously if necessary, but often– and many.  How else will the state leaders believe that there is a serious problem?

DEFINING COMMON CORE

Another reason there is a lack of coverage and discussion about the issue is that when we say “Common Core,” we don’t all think of the same thing.

Remember the story of the blind men describing the elephant?  Each blind man reached out and touched the elephant, and were asked to describe it.  One said it was like a tree trunk.  One said it was like a wall.  One said it was like a rope.  All disagreed yet none was lying.  The beast was just bigger and more complex than any of them realized.

Because different teachers teach at different grade levels, and different teachers teach different subjects  (only some of which are affected by Common Core); and because some schools jumped on the Common Core implementation wagon fast, while others are slow; and because the Common Core tests don’t begin until this coming school year; and because the Common Core-aligned textbooks are for the most part, not yet purchased and not yet even printed, things look different in different places.

Then there’s the confusion outside the teachers’ arena; some people are aware of the political strings (such as the lack of an amendment process for common core standards; the copyright on CCSS, the 15% cap placed on it by the Dept of Education; and the lack of voter accountability to the groups who created the standards)  –while many people are unaware, and say, “Common Core is just minimum standards.”

All of these various angles make it difficult to even speak about what Common Core is.

But we have to keep speaking about it.

MOVE– BEFORE THE CEMENT HARDENS

Common Core is not like past education reforms that are quickly altered and tossed away for another set of equally bureaucratic –but alterable– reforms.

This one’s going in cement. Two reasons:

1.  The main architect for Common Core’s ELA standards, David Coleman, was given the position of College Board president, and is aligning college entrance exams (SAT) to Common Core.  The ACT is said to be aligned as well.  This fact alters our entire system of education in the country –and cannot be easily changed later.

2. There is a philosophical and curricular monopoly happening.  The textbook industry is dominated by Pearson, the world’s largest education sales business.  Pearson is officially partnered with Bill Gates, the world’s 2nd richest man, and the main funder of all things common core.  The partnership is writing model common core curriculum (as are the testing consortia) to align all books, teacher trainings, and tests with the same standards.  Meanwhile, 99% of all smaller textbook companies are also republishing all their books to align with Common Core because of this new monopoly on what academic standards ought to cover (or what they ought to skip).

We need more states, more private schools, and more textbook companies  to stand independent of this outrageous, baseless monopoly.  Otherwise, there will soon be no alternatives, no freedom of choice, no ability to soar above the common –for any of us.

We need alternatives to a common alignment with corporate monopolies and one college exam standard.

I hope the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News decide to cover this issue fully, rather than worrying about what the Governor, State School Board, and Prosperity 2020 businesses want them to do.

People deserve to hear the full story, thoroughly covered.  It’s not unimportant:

We are reclaiming the local ability to determine what we will teach our kids.

 

 

 

 

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