When John Eppolito, a father of four, asked to the Nevada Department of Education to show him the information it is storing on his children, he was informed that “the Department’s Director of Information Technology… has estimated that the cost will be approximately $10,194.”
“Please understand,” wrote Judy Osgood, department public information officer, “that the primary purpose of the Department of Education’s [database] is to support required state and federal reporting, funding of local education agencies, education accountability, and public reporting. The system currently is not capable of responding to the type of individual student data request you have presented.”
Eppolito says he is concerned about his children’s privacy after the state in 2010 joined a consortium of other states sharing student data. For him to see his kids’ state files, however, said department IT Director Glenn Meyer, requires a data request, a “data dump,” and charges for programming time to create a “report.”
Violating Federal Law
So far the state has invested more than seven years and $10 million in the state’s K-12 student-information database, federal grant records show. Yet the system has no capacity to cost-effectively allow parents such as Eppolito to see the data collected on their children.
The system is currently called “SAIN”—for “System of Accountability Information in Nevada.” The “accountability” part, however, appears oriented toward almost everyone but the students’ own parents.
Moreover, the state appears to be violating the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, called “FERPA.” Under the law, parents are entitled to review and inspect their children’s educational records, whether maintained at the level of school, district, or state.
“They are supposed to provide [parents] the opportunity to inspect and review [records] upon request,” explained one official at the Family Policy Compliance Office (FCPO), the federal agency over FERPA. “There shouldn’t be a fee for inspecting and reviewing the records.”
According to FERPA regulations, parental inspection applies to “Any State educational agency (SEA) and its components.” Regulations do allow fees for “copies” of records unless “the imposition of a fee effectively prevents a parent or eligible student from exercising the right to inspect and review the student’s education records.” In no case may an educational agency “charge a fee to search for or to retrieve the education records of a student.”
All Just a Misunderstanding?
After Osgood viewed the FPCO statements via email, she wrote back that department officials “would like to speak with these same officials, to confirm that we have a shared understanding.
“NDE does provide free access to education records,” she said, citing the Nevada Report Card, but again insisted that “SAIN was not designed for student-level inspection. Our understanding of FERPA is that this level of inspection applies to the LEA [local education authority – i.e., school district] and school.”
As far back as the Nevada Legislature’s 2003 special session, state lawmakers seeking federal dollars had agreed to establish a student-tracking data system. Under the reigning federal paradigm at the time—No Child Left Behind—the stated intent was to allow each state to track its pupils’ performance over time.
That was still the federal frame of reference in 2007, when the Nevada Department of Education put up a $5.5 million “match” and received a $6 million federal grant to expand what is now called SAIN.
Obama Administration Expands Tracking
Beginning with the Obama administration, the federal government has sought to greatly expand the amount of individual student data collected, shared and analyzed, by expanding state educational database systems to track individuals from their pre-kindergarten years well into adulthood, into data systems now referred to as “Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems.”
For the past seven years, all Nevada public school students, including charter school students, have been “data-tracked” daily through school district “Student Information Systems.”
Over 800 data points are now collected and stored in SAIN. Under a 2012 federal grant for $4 million, those data elements will “evolve” as Nevada, too, expands its pre-K-to-workforce longitudinal database system. Every night, says Osgood, the data points are automatically uploaded into SAIN.
Since 2009, SAIN-like systems have emerged and expanded across the country to store, connect, and share individual information across agencies, state lines with other states and outside groups.
One such sharing consortium, “Smarter Balanced,” receives student data from Nevada. It describes itself as a “state-led consortium working collaboratively to develop next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards.”
But while Smarter Balanced calls itself “state-led,” it operates on a federal grant of $175,849,539, and its federal contract commits it to providing “timely and complete access to any and all data collected at the State level to [the U. S. Department of Education] or its designated program monitors, technical assistance providers, or researcher partners, and to GAO, and the auditors…”
“They can give information on my children to third parties, but I can’t see it?” says Eppolito. He is currently president of Americans for Better Schools, a Nevada grassroots organization opposing Common Core State Standards.
Originally posted at The Heartland Institute