FW: Published in Akron Beacon Journal
- Subject: FW: Published in Akron Beacon Journal
- From: Sean Obrien <sobrien@COLUMBUS.RR.COM>
- Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 14:44:57 +0000
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- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
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Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 09:21:43 EST
Subject: Published in Akron Beacon Journal
"Exactly what is a school record? And who gets to see it?
By Betty Raskoff Kazmin March 7, 2002
I wonder if the U.S. Supreme Court Justices considered computerized
prior to deciding the "trade & grade" schoolwork case.
The recent case was brought under FERPA, the federal Family Education Rights
and Privacy Act of 1974. The law states that no school receiving federal
funds may "release education records...without the written consent
of...parents." The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against an Oklahoma
school district's policy of peer-graded papers, saying they were private
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that ruling in February. Justice Anthony
Kennedy wrote the opinion, saying Congress never intended the school
law to include day-to-day activities and peer-graded schoolwork. "Federal
power would exercise minute control over specific teaching methods and
instructional dynamics in classrooms throughout the country," he wrote.
During my teaching career, I never asked students to correct each others
papers. I believe it is more effective when students look at their own
find their own mistakes and identify what they did not understand. I think
teachers can nurture students' progress as well as their privacy.
The battle over the privacy rights of schoolchildren is just beginning.
FERPA, dealing with student records nearly 30 years ago, was named as a
privacy act. The law's legislative history suggests that Congress was
concerned with protecting the privacy of final, institutional school records
of significance, not the day-to-day classroom work.
Computerized databases make such distinctions less precise, and endanger
Today, school personnel spend precious time and resources entering, managing
and retrieving data. My small district subscribes to a data management
system as required by the state. There is no cost-benefit analysis; we have
no choice. Quarterly grades, attendance, proficiency scores, personal
evaluations and grade point averages all go into databases. Day-to-day
records rapidly become institutional records.
Databases expand exponentially. Virginia school officials created an $11
million computer database with over 1000 pieces of personal information on
each of 150,000 students. Stored data include notes on behavior, learning
disabilities, family income, report card comments and mental-health records.
California is building a similar Student Information System. Business Week
reports "more than a dozen states have linked their new databases to a
nationwide data-exchange program being organized by the Education Dept.
a 1994 congressional mandate."
The No Child Left Behind education bill mandates yearly testing for every
student in grades three to eight, with those scores also entered into
databases and sorted by ethnicity, gender and income. Students will be
identified as successes or failures; data is to be accessible to school
personnel. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige told Education Week that
"he wants all states to develop systems that track student achievement data
more carefully, so that decisions about instruction, dropouts and other
matters can be made using better evidence."
Student data may be potent evidence. But will it be accurate, relevant and
secure? The student records law of 1974 requires parents' consent to
education records, now defined as final, institutional and often
computerized. But how can parents control access to school databases? How
will overworked teachers use this evidence? How will we guard against Big
Wall Street giant Standard & Poor's is one of many companies positioning
themselves to analyze "individual interpretive and diagnostic reports on
students...and itemized scores," reports Education Week. Corporations
profits as school districts struggle to meet basic expenses. Meanwhile,
Congress considers $800 million in grants to colleges and research groups to
protect the nation's computers against hackers. As identity theft is
data security is falling and databases are linking, who will guarantee the
privacy of our students' records?
Peer-grading is legal, wrote Justice Kennedy, because students' records are
not protected by the privacy law until "the teacher has collected them and
recorded them in his or her grade book"--a quaint notion. The Supreme Court
ignored technology's effect on students' records, since that was not the
issue. It soon will be. As ever more data is created and computerized, our
children's privacy surely will be left behind.
THE AUTHOR taught for 20 years in Los Angeles secondary schools. She has a
law degree, and is a member of the Willard board of education.
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