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(Cross posted at For Our Future.)

The New York State Department of Education unveiled a new database today that will monitor the academic performance of students in grade three through eight. While New York officials claim that the database will help improve education policy, troubling questions remain about student privacy and the overall effectiveness of such a program.

The database is designed to track everything from test scores in targeted subject areas to high school dropout rates. Students will begin having data collected about almost every minute detail. Educators and elected official will then analyze the data and make recommendations about how to improve public schools.

One feature of the database tracks how students are performing in specific subjects and then allows teachers to appropriately change the curriculum. Unfortunately, this data will be relatively useless unless it is correlated with other information about students. Policy makers need to under the social and economic context of their student's performance. Low test scores almost always correlate with students from low-income families. The proposed database would fail to take this vital information into account.

Another problem with the proposed database is privacy. Although government officials claim that the information will be safe, every system is always at-risk to hackers. In fact, a recent news item about a San Diego man who was convicted of breaking into computer system of the University of Southern California underscores the threat that centralized databases pose to student privacy.

This database might even be a trial run for the Department of Education's proposal for a national tracking system for college and university students. The problems associated with a statewide database for middle school students is only magnified when applied to a college-oriented program. Skeptics of the Department of Education's proposal should keep an eye on this pilot program.

Originally posted to benwaxman on Fri Sep 08, 2006 at 10:07 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Military Collects Data Already on High Schoolers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The DoD collects extensive data on High Schoolers so they can target them for recruitment.

    Apparently now they want to start younger...

  •  Hmmm, it's in the details (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HiBob, epppie

    Some kind of national tracking would be valuable. In fact, if it's never been done before, then that's a friggin' tragedy.

    What is important is that people are allowed to discuss how it is done so that privacy is guaranteed. If America can't track student performance efficiently and properly, we're in pathetic shape.

    Whackos get their info thru the Christian right. We'll bring them out to vote against something and make sure the public lets the whole thing slip past them.

    by chemsmith on Fri Sep 08, 2006 at 09:57:58 AM PDT

    •  agreed (0+ / 0-)

      it's all very nice to put together an some sort of average performance number for each school and decide how well it is serving its students that way. It's something else to look at the performance of each student coming in and going out, and comparing how well the school performed for THAT student compared to similar students in other schools. i. e., do kids who go  in at the 25% percentile come out at the 35% or at the 15% percentile? What is the "value added"  by a given school for a student? Or by  given classroom? Or by a given textbook/curriculum?

      This sort of information would be invaluable, even if it it isn't appreciated much.
      California is planning on implementing this soon, and I expect this state will get individual privacy issues hammered out well enough (unless the feds demand otherwise).

  •  Wolf Disguised As Grandma (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lizpolaris, epppie

    "The better to eat you with, my dear."

    "Libertarianism" is the political philosophy of Third World countries.

    by bink on Fri Sep 08, 2006 at 09:59:21 AM PDT

  •  I don't like this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Could it be used to deny grants and loans to kids whose parents aren't in the "party"?
    Also, my kid is gifted especially in math.  What the hell are they going to do with the data?  They've already eviscerated the math program and teach to the lowest common denominator.  

    -3.63, -4.46 "Choose something like a star to stay your mind on- and be staid"

    by goldberry on Fri Sep 08, 2006 at 10:03:41 AM PDT

  •  Tracking for statistics (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The only way to make records safe is to not tie them to personal identity.  The local school district knows the identity, but the federal system need only know that student 000534 is being tracked.  And federal employees are legally barred from trying to put personal information with the record.  And the records should not be tied to locality either, if it is to be a generalized study.  Not to particular school district, not to ZIP code.  And tying the data to states and counties is a debatable point.

    To implement a system that gives teachers the ability to change the curriculum in response to the data, the data for those functions should be implemented only at a school facility and the data secured from other parts of the network.

    We don't need a national tracking system for any students that tries to track with personal information.  Any more than we need a trackng system for healthcare outcomes that tracks with personal health information.  If this is what the DEd is envisioning, they should be stopped.

    •  They act like privacy is an afterthought. (0+ / 0-)

      There's no reason why they can't collect data AND protect privacy - eg, encode data at the local level.  But they seem to act like that's just waay too difficult to think about, or some kind of imposition.  Jesus, privacy should the the FIRST thought, not the last thought!  

      It really looks like what they want is not the raw information about student  learning - it LOOKS like what they want is the individual data, to track individuals.  

      Otherwise, what they would be asking is:  "how can we design this system so that private information doesn't go any or much higher up into the system than it already does?"

      A similar issue came up in connection with the collection of phone data a while back.  It was revealed that the Bush administration was collecting phone records on a massive scale from AT&T and other companies - supposedly their goal was to track patterns, but that goal could have been achieved with information encoded so as to keep specific individual identity from flowing up to a higher level.

      a hope that may come close to despair

      by epppie on Fri Sep 08, 2006 at 10:45:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  while there's no need (0+ / 0-)

      to attach a name to the ID number,
      the power of the data will be lost unless the number is attached to all of the relevant data - district, school, classroom, family background, test scores, learning disabilities.
      But the analysis could be done at the state level,
      who could deliver results delivered to the feds.

  •  This appears to be NY state (0+ / 0-)

    NOT the US Dept. of Education.

    That would be a one-state data base, unless the State of NY is planning on doing this on ALL students (public, private, paraochial, and home-schooled?) in the entire country.

    Now, the Us Dept. of education may also be doing this, but the NCLB legislation only applies to public schools, and theoretically an individual or an entire school can opt out of the data base (though it isn't easy).

    Stop the politicization of crime!

    by tom 47 on Fri Sep 08, 2006 at 11:47:14 AM PDT

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