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November 17. 2013 8:36PM

Access to student information is at center of Nashua’s Common Core concerns

NASHUA — As the city continues its community-wide conversation about the new wave of education reform that is ushering in the Common Core Standards, questions are piling up about the collection of student information and efforts to protect privacy.

The Board of Education is holding a Common Core workshop tonight at 7 p.m. at Nashua High School North. The meeting was scheduled to discuss board member David Murotake’s proposal to slow down the implementation of Common Core and delay the new Smarter Balance assessment tests for two years.

Murotake feels educators need more time to shift to the new standards and the Common Core-aligned curriculum.

“Teachers and principals are worried about problems with early deployment. Everyone seems to be rushing it,” said Murotake, who pointed to early assessment results in states that raced to embrace Common Core.

Murotake’s resolution also addresses other concerns that have emerged as more and more people learn about Common Core, including the questions about student data.

Originally, Murotake considered seeking a stop to the collection of personal and family information about students through the assessment tests. However, with so much conflicting information about student data and privacy, Murotake is now looking for more information.

“I am calling for the formation of a study group to look at the privacy concerns,” he said.

Part of the problem may be that different aspects of the Common Core initiative are still being developed as schools rush to implement the new standards and curriculum

But collecting information on students isn’t new.

Common Core critic Ann Marie Banfield, the education liaison for the conservative think tank Cornerstone, has pointed out that schools have been collecting personal data about students, such as family structure and income levels, for years. And policy makers have been able to tap that information to decide how to spend money and use resources.

However, recent changes to the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act now allow school districts to share student information with different government agencies and third parties involved in research and educational programming without parental consent. Those changes have given rise to concerns that student data could become a commodity of particular interest for text book companies and education businesses that stand to earn billions as Common Core moves forward.

While the New Hampshire Dept. of Education has said student data isn’t for sale, and individual privacy is protected by masking each individual child’s identity with a random student number, there are other worries about Common Core’s “data driven” approach to education.

The federal government has packed billions of dollars of local aid into its Race to the Top funding package, but school districts competing for the money were required to make changes. Among those changes was the creation of a statewide data system that tracks a student from kindergarten through high school graduation. Test scores, basic socio-economic information, health records and information about disciplinary problems follow each child as he or she moves through the school system.

New Hampshire has already picked up more than $8 million in federal grants to create its statewide data base. In 2007, the U.S. Dept. of Education awarded the state $3.2 million to create a statewide data system. Last year, the federal government sent another $4.9 million to the state Department of Education to enhance the system so that teachers could access information to tailor instruction to help individual kids.

“Rather than listening to students and parents, schools are relying on data points,” said Banfield.

Although Common Core advocates insist there is no threat to privacy and no worries about information being manipulated or misused, the debate is playing out against the backdrop of the Affordable Health Care Act’s website disaster and the picture of the government’s insatiable appetite for personal data that has emerged from documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

“How can anyone really be confident,” wondered Banfield who added that concerns about student data and privacy cross party lines. “Let’s look at this data being collected and see if it promotes academic excellence without violating privacy.”

btaormina@newstote.com


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