Share “Privacy of kids’ records debated”

BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: April 18, 2010
WASHINGTON — It’s not just grades and test scores anymore. It’s educational data.

And it comes in many varieties to help educators, students and parents measure academic growth and achievement in the nation’s schools.

At a House of Representatives hearing last week, the superintendent of the Western Heights School District in Oklahoma City gave a committee an online look at a student’s current schedule, grades and attendance record for the past three years.

A teacher from Ohio showed how two teachers in the same school were having vastly different results among different types of students. And a Colorado education official demonstrated how parents and others can compare achievements among schools.

Educators say more and better data leads to better instruction.

"I fundamentally believe we need to retool schools to deliver data in near real time,” Joe Kitchens, Western Heights superintendent, told the House Education and Labor Committee.

But a law professor warned the committee that much of the data being collected was unnecessary and intrusive and raised privacy concerns. Some of the data collection, he said, may even violate a federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The push for data collection was part of the No Child Left Behind Act and supported last year in the stimulus bill, which included $250 million to help states develop systems that track students through all grades.

Congressional committees are now laying the groundwork for rewriting federal education policy for the nation’s elementary and secondary schools.

Rep. George Miller, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, said there has to be a "tremendous focus on data” in the new law.

"Without data, schools are operating in the dark,” he said. "Simply put, data systems work.”

Miller, D-Calif., mentioned Kitchens’ work in identifying the academic problems of students who transfer to different schools.

Kitchens brought in a statistical expert to analyze data in the Western Heights district. There were some obvious results: Kids who miss class and get in trouble don’t do as well. But Kitchens also learned that many kids who had moved from another school weren’t succeeding.

The "mobility” rate among U.S. students is much higher than in the past, Kitchens said, and electronic records need to move with the children quickly to help teachers assess and help them.

"We have people on the move, and we have to move data with children so we can make decisions about their educational lives,” Kitchens told the House committee.

Joel R. Data Watch Blog

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