How the SAT and PSAT collect personal data on students — and what the College Board does with it

March 30

If your child takes the SAT or PSAT, is his or her personal information being collected, profiled, licensed and sold?

That is the question that Cheri Kiesecker, Colorado parent and member of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, asks and attempts to answer in the following important post. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy is a national alliance of parents and advocates defending the rights of parents and students to protect their data.

The SAT has traditionally been used as a college entrance exam but it, and the ACT, also a college entrance exam, are increasingly being used as high school tests. In fact, 25 states now require that high school students take them for school accountability purposes, Education Week reported here.

The protection of personal data is in the news with the recent passage by Congress of legislation that eliminates landmark online privacy protections established by the Obama administration. It removes limits that had been placed on Internet service providers —  such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — on how they can use data they collect on their customers, including browsing habits and Social Security numbers. Privacy advocates are especially concerned with how this will affect young people.

Here’s the post by Kiesecker, and following it is a response from the College Board, which owns the SAT and the PSAT exams.

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Press Release: The BPO Endorses Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris for School Committee!

The BPO, Brookline PAX, BEU, and BRJE Join to Endorse Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris for School Committee

On Tuesday, May 2nd, Brookline citizens will have an historic opportunity to vote for a School Committee that supports the ideals of excellence, justice, and democratic process that have long been the hallmarks of our great public school system.

The Alliance for Brookline Schools, consisting of Brookline PAX, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU), the Brookline Parents Organization (BPO), and Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity (BRJE), have joined together to endorse two highly qualified candidates for School Committee: Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris. Suzanne is a long time Brookline resident and parent, and a retired teacher and Boston Public Schools principal who combines a lifelong passion for students and education with an intimate knowledge of the workings of public schools. Paul is also a long time resident and Brookline parent, as well as a town meeting member and founder of its Green Caucus, former co-chair of Climate Action Week, who is deeply committed to public education here in Brookline.

The Alliance believes strongly that Brookline should never repeat the debacle that was the recently resolved three year contract negotiation. It believes strongly in a living wage for paraprofessionals, in freedom and autonomy for teachers in their classrooms, and that students are not data collection points.

“The students of Brookline deserve an education of equity and excellence that addresses the needs of the whole child,” says Suzanne. “In this time of challenge to the public schools at the national level, I am running to protect the integrity of our schools at the local level.”

Paul adds, “I believe I can help the Brookline School Committee engage more constructively with teachers and paraprofessionals. A realization of this will include students, educators, and other staff who love their work, their peers, and the Brookline Schools.”

The Alliance came together out of an unprecedented need for change in the direction and vision of our town’s School Committee, and put its collective energy into interviewing and vetting all of this year’s School Committee candidates. As the result of this process, the Alliance has endorsed Suzanne Federspiel and Paul Harris out of its belief that they are the only two candidates who share a vision for a school committee that is transparent and will work in active collaboration with the community.


Local legislators reconsider the standardized test

Local legislators reconsider the standardized test

After fielding hundreds of calls from concerned parents, local teachers, and administrators frustrated by an education system they see as increasingly obsessed with standardized test scores, nearly 100 state legislators have joined in support of a bill that would freeze for three-years the use of state assessments.

Those supporting the sweeping education reform package, known as Bill S.308, include legislators representing most of The Middlesex East’s coverage area, including Wakefield, Woburn, Tewksbury, Wilmington, Reading, Wakefield, Winchester, and Stoneham.

“I felt over the last few years that too much time is dedicated towards preparing and studying for the test. The students are losing time with other subject matters they could be learning otherwise,” said State Rep. James Miceli (D-Wilmington), who is a strong supporter of rethinking the state’s MCAS policies.

"I co-sponsored the high-stakes testing bill (S.308) after speaking with teachers, administrators and educational professionals about the growing burden of testing on our students,” State Rep. James Dwyer, a Woburn democrat, commented in a separate interview. “Don't get me wrong; I believe there needs to be assessments to determine our students' growth and achievement. However, when our system of education becomes so assessment centered, I think we need to take a step back.”

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IES Audit Finds Problems With Screening for Contractors Using Student Data

The U.S. Department of Education's office of inspector general has released an audit sharply critiquing the Institute of Education Sciences' security screenings for federal education contractors.

IES, the Education Department's research agency collects data on millions of students nationwide, and it is one of the primary agencies connecting researchers to student data, but the audit suggests the agency needs to tighten its processes to ensure researchers know how to safeguard student privacy.

Auditors looked at a a sample of 95 employees assigned to IES's five largest contractors, all of them long-standing research groups: Research Triangle Institute, the American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences, NCS Pearson, Inc, Westat, Inc, and the Educational Testing Service. All told, they represent more than $462 million, or 29 percent of IES's active contract funding.

The auditors found nearly half of the 81 employees who needed a screening in order to work with student data had no evidence of receiving one. Another 15 employees had been screened while under a previous contract or while working for another agency, but IES had not verified their screenings.

In general, the problems seems to be caused by confusion about which employees met different levels of risk in working with students' personal data. IES is in the process of revising a guide for contractors on student data, but it has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

In a response to the audit, IES delegated director Thomas Brock said that the agency has written clarified guidance to its contractors and added additional staff as "personal security representatives" for contractors, and that it is continuing to work on security screening processes.

‘Weapons Of Math Destruction’ Outlines Dangers Of Relying On Data Analytics

Heard on  All Things Considered

NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with data scientist Cathy O'Neil about her new book, Weapons of Math Destruction, which describes the dangers of relying on big data analytics to solve problems.


We are in a time of big data. In recent years, NPR's done stories about how data analytics are being used to help political campaigns, rally supporters, compare the cost of similar surgeries in different cities, track public buses in real time and even maybe identify police officers at risk of committing misconduct. But the question is are we putting too much faith in big data? That's the question we're asking in this week's All Tech Considered.

MCEVERS: In her new book, mathematician Cathy O'Neil says we are in a techno utopia. And she does not mean that in a good way. Her book is called "Weapons Of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality And Threatens Democracy." And she is with us now. Welcome to the show.

CATHY O'NEIL: Honored to be here, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So tell us what you mean by techno utopia.

O'NEIL: Well, techno utopia is this idea that the machine-learning tools, the algorithms, the things that help Google, like, have cars that drive themselves, that these tools are somehow making things objective and fair when, in fact, we really have no idea what's happening to most algorithms under the hood.


O'NEIL: Yeah, well, so everybody knows about the sort of decades-long attempt to improve public education in the United States. It goes by various names like No Child Left Behind, you know, Race to the Top. But at the end of the day, what they've decided to do in a large part is to sort of remove these terrible teachers that we keep hearing about. And the way they try to find these terrible teachers is through something called the growth model. And the growth model, mathematically speaking, is pretty weak and has had, like, lots of unintended consequences.

When I say weak, I interviewed a teacher from New York City public schools named Tim Clifford. He's been teaching for 20 years, multiple awards, he's written quite a few books. He got a 6 out of 100 one year and then a 96 out of 100 the next year. And he says his techniques didn't change. So it's very inconsistent. It's not clear what this number is actually scoring in terms of teachers and the teaching ability. I interviewed a woman named Sarah Wysocki in the D.C. area who actually got fired because of her low growth model score.

MCEVERS: There must be other examples, though, where people, you know, good teachers got good scores.

O'NEIL: Yeah, I mean, there certainly are, but I would say it's relatively close to a random number generator. So the fact that some good teachers got good scores doesn't say enough. I guess the point is that you might have some statistical information when you hear a score, but it's not accurate enough to actually decide on whether a given teacher, an individual teacher is doing a good job. But it's treated as such because people just trust numbers, they trust scores.

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The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy: a Fantastic Website

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy was founded in July 2014 by Leonie Haimson of New York and Rachael Stickland of Colorado, two parent advocates who successfully led the battle to stop nine states from disclosing their personal student data to inBloom Inc.  inBloom was designed to be a massive student database, with the goal of more easily sharing this information with for-profit data- mining vendors and other third parties without parent notification or consent.

The inBloom controversy made parents aware for the first time how widely schools, districts and states were engaged in risky data sharing, and how few privacy and security protections were employed.  It kick-started a national debate on student privacy that has not yet abated. After inBloom closed its doors in April 2014, Leonie and Rachael decided to form a national coalition of parents and advocates who would defend the rights of parents and students to protect their data.

We have written letters to Congress to strengthen federal rights to student privacy; authored op-eds and provided resources to parents, informing of their current rights to protect their children’s data under federal law. We have also drafted five principles for student privacy that every educational institution, agency and third parties should respect and incorporate in their data policies.

You can join our mailing list to receive updates on how you can help us advocate for stronger student privacy protections by providing your information here. You can email us at or call us at 303.204.1272.

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy is a project of Class Size Matters, a 501C3 non-profit headquartered in NYC.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation by indicating on the page that you would like your contribution to be used for this effort; you can also send a check to the address below.

Please also join our Facebook page and follow us on twitter at @parentsforprivacy


Leonie and Rachael

Co-chairs, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy



8 Reasons To Opt Out

Peter Greene, Curmudgucation, Wednesday, March 8, 2017

 Depending on your state, it is that time again-- time to waste students' school time on the Big Standardized Test. Whether it's the PARCC or the SBA or whatever mutant offspring of the testing industry that your state prefers, it's headed your way like a hungry wildebeast.

Maybe you have opted your child out in the past. Maybe you've thought about it, but ultimately decided not to. Maybe you've even become comfortably numb about test-driven education. Consider opting out this year.

If you want to read more, wider, deeper perspectives on the movement, click on over to United Opt Out. If you want to find out the specific mechanics of opting out in your state, just google "opt out" and your state. For instance, if I look for "opt out Pennsylvania," I find the basic instructions for the steps I must take to opt my children out of testing (since my children are currently Negative 3 Months old, it won't be an issue this year, but I like to be prepared).

If you opt out, you may will get grief and pushback for your choice. Here's why you should do it anyway.

1) No Benefits for Children or Parents

Your child is not allowed to discuss specifics of the test with anyone, so there will be no after-test conversation that would help her glean lessons through reflection. Your child will not get any specific feedback telling her which answers she got right, and which she got wrong. You will not get any feedback on the test except a single blanket score between 4 (super-duper) and 1 (not so great). Once this test is done, you will not know anything about your child that you did not already know.

2) No Benefits for Teachers

In most states, we are not even allowed to lay eyes on the test, and we will receive a single score for your child. All of this is useless. We will learn nothing about your child, and nothing about your child's class (except how well they did on this test). If an administrator or a teacher tells you that the test results will give them valuable information about your child, ask them why they have not already collected that information by other means and if not, what they've been doing for the past eight months.

3) Wasted Time and Resources

What could your student have done with the time spent on preparing for the test, drilling for the test, taking the test? What could your state and local school system have done with the millions of dollars spent on giving the test? Students, parents and schools are paying big in both financial and opportunity costs.

4) Warped View of School and Life

Test-centric schooling leaves our students with the impression that they go to school to learn how to pass the test, and then to take the test. That is a terrible model for learning and for life. Contrary to what test supporters say, life is not all about standardized tests. You will not take a bubble test to get married or to have and raise children. Whatever your career, it will not involve a steady daily diet of test prep and test taking. Show your child that the Big Standardized Test is not the point of school.

5) Don't Negotiate with Hostage Takers

You may hear that your child must take the test because otherwise it will hurt the school or the classroom teacher. This is simply hostage taking. And it's important to remember that every year this continues, schools and teachers continue to pay a price-- in time, in money, in the growth of a pervasive toxic test-driven atmosphere. This argument is a bully who says, "If you don't let me beat this kid up, I will beat him up even more." In any bullying situation, the person to blame is not the victim the person that the bully uses as an excuse to bully. The problem is not that your child isn't taking the test-- the problem is the state that is threatening to punish the school and teachers. Deal with the real problem; don't enable it.

6) Privacy Matters

This is certainly not the only mechanism being deployed to capture, collect and monetize data about your child. In fact, many folks who position themselves as opponents of BS Tests are actually doing so to build a case for other data collecting methods (but we'll talk about Competency Based Education another day). But opting out is certainly one clear and immediate way that you can keep some of your child's data out of the hands of the Big Data miners.

7) The Value of Non-compliance

In this day and age, it is never too early for a child to learn that sometimes people in authority will demand that you comply with dumb actions. Unthinking compliance is unwise. It's good for all citizens to learn to say "no," and the Big Standardized Test is a good practice case for all the reasons listed above. Compliance is not a virtue in and of itself; this is a great chance to practice rebelling just a little.

8) Be a Snowflake

It's true-- your opting out may well not get your state or school district to change policy, may not recapture all the time and money being lost to testing, may not change the course on which we're currently set. But then again-- if you are one among many, it might. Put enough snowflakes together and you get an avalanche that crushes everything in its path.

The requirement to make schools test-centic, to put bad tests at the center of school's existence is foolish, on the order of demanding that all students wear silly hats. At this stage of the game, there can be no doubt-- there are no benefits to the test and many unnecessary costs. It will not go away easily, because test manufacturers are making a ton of money on this giant time suck. It's time to make your life a source of friction in the machine.

This year, whether it's for the first time or the tenth, opt out.

State Officials Vague on New Standardized Test

Doug Page, Bay State Parent, March 14, 2017

State Officials Vague on New Standardized Test

Massachusetts students in Grades 3 through 8 will take a new standardized test this month, but it’s unclear how new the test really is.

Dubbed “MCAS 2.0” in October 2015 by Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the new test was proposed by Chester as a compromise between the aging MCAS and the controversial Common Core-aligned PARCC exam. When suggesting a hybrid test, Chester said it would be a combination of Common Core-based questions, like those found on the PARCC, along with those not aligned with Common Core standards. At the time, critics predicted that MCAS 2.0 would be akin to a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a backdoor way to administer the PARCC test to Massachusetts public school students without the critical backlash of adopting the PARCC outright.

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School offers ‘incentives’ to get kids to take Common Core standardized test

 March 8, 2017

We’ve seen in years past pep rallies, parties, raffles and other sorts of enticements — which some might call bribes — for students before they take high-stakes standardized tests.  In spring 2016, for example, Washington Redskins cheerleaders surprised students at an assembly for students at a Washington elementary school to cheer them on for their Common Core tests.

Now, as school districts around the country get ready to launch into their annual spring testing season, it’s starting to  happen again.

A notice was just sent to families with children attending Jewell Elementary School in Aurora Public Schools, a school with some 530 students in pre-K through fifth grades, most of them minority. The memo actually includes the phrase “PARCC incentives,” with PARCC referring to the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, a Common Core test created by a multistate consortium funded by the former Obama administration.

Other schools are also offering incentives in Colorado, one of the states with the largest opt-out movements. New York has had the most opt-outs, with at least 20 percent of students statewide refusing to take accountability tests for the past few years, and officials expecting big numbers again this year.

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The Scary Thing You Don’t Know About ‘Free’ Scholarship Searches

How to Search for College Scholarships Safely

Privacy and college experts have this advice for scholarship seekers who want to avoid becoming a target for marketers:

  • Set up a scholarship email address. Create a new email address from one of the free service such as Gmail that you’ll use as the contact information for scholarship applications. “If your public ‘throwaway’ address gets spammed enough to become annoying, you can simply kill it off, and start a new one,” recommends the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • Beware of the easy scholarships: The easier it is to apply to – in other words, if there’s no requirement for an essay or grade information or a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – the more likely it is that the scholarship is a marketing tool for a company seeking information about teenagers and their parents. If you’re interested, go ahead and apply, but be aware that you’re trading your information for a lottery ticket.
  • Take a minute to read a website’s privacy policy before you provide any personal information. Search through the gobbledygook for notes about whether information is made available to third parties or marketing partners.
  • File a complaint with the FTC if you find a scholarship search engine or contest you think is misleading.
  • Try out scholarship search tools that don’t collect or sell personal information. Start with you high school counselor or college financial aid office, suggests Jill Desjean, a policy analyst with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Ask around your community: Chambers of Commerce, churches, civic organizations and parents’ employers can also be helpful, Desjean adds. There are a few web sites that allow you to search for scholarships without requiring personal information, such as and

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