Archive for Thursday, August 15, 2013

Kansas: State board refutes Common Core privacy worries

August 15, 2013

— Kansas education officials on Tuesday denied suggestions that the new Common Core standards in reading and math will lead to widespread invasions of student and family privacy.

“There is no individual student data that we send to the federal government,” Kathy Gosa, the Kansas State Department of Education's IT director, told the State Board of Education. “It is all aggregate data.”

Those concerns — which have circulated widely on various websites and among some conservative political groups — came up again this week at the Kansas State Board of Education where, for for several months in a row, groups of people opposed to the Common Core standards have urged the board to reverse course and abandon them.

One of those was Renee Slinkard of Parker, Kan., who told the board, “The data collection of our children's medical and religious affiliations, besides other personal information, will be kept in a database for government access.”

Board member Sally Cauble, a Republican from Liberal, interjected to ask where Slinkard had gotten that information.

“I have been to various meetings,” Slinkard said.

When Cauble pressed the issue, Slinkard said they were meetings of “concerned parents,” and were not organized by any state agencies or officials. She said she also took part in conference calls with other concerned parents and had visited various websites, although she did not name any specific ones.

Similar charges have been circulating for months in national conservative media, including the Glenn Beck Show and the syndicated columns of Michele Malkin.

Common Core critics say the source of many of their concerns is the Obama administration's Race to the Top grant program, which offered money to states for developing “longitudinal data systems” that could track student performance over time.

But department officials told the board those concerns are overblown, that they will not collect any more information than they already collect about students, and that only aggregated data — not data about individual students — will be shared with the federal government, or anyone else.

Gosa gave a presentation about the department's data system, known as KIDS — Kansas Individual Data on Students. That system, she said, collects basic demographic information such as race, ethnicity and gender that is used for state and federal reporting.

It also tracks such things as students' enrollment and attendance information, their participation in programs such as special education or free and reduced-price meals, the courses they take and the grades they receive and their performance on state assessments, Gosa said.

In addition to federal reporting, Gosa said the information is used to calculate state funding and to determine eligibility for certain programs. But she said none of that data leaves the agency except in aggregated form, so that data about individual students cannot be identified.

During the discussion, board member Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, asked if the state collected any data about how a student's parents had voted in the last election, or what church they attended.

“No,” Gosa said. “None of those data are collected.”

Other board members, including Hutchinson Republican Ken Willard, asked how secure the state's data is and whether it was safe from external hacking.

“We have security alerts, so the minute (a vulnerability) has been identified, we install patches,” Gosa said. “We have every safeguard that exists that we're aware of on our system. We have the technical solution in place, and we believe we have the personal solution in place too.”


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