Assessment Consortium Votes on Privacy of Student Data

By Catherine Gewertz — September 11, 2013 2 min read
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The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has taken the first step toward adoption of a policy to protect the privacy of student data gathered as part of a new testing regimen aligned with the common-core standards.

At a meeting in Los Angeles yesterday, the consortium’s governing states approved this two-sentence statement:

• Each member state retains control of its student-level data.
• Smarter Balanced will develop a data privacy policy consistent with this principle.

The statement will serve as the basis for development of two documents to be put before the governing states for later approval, according to Joe Willhoft, the executive director of Smarter Balanced.

Both will describe what data states will supply to the consortium and how it will be used. One version will be aimed at the general public. Another will be a far more detailed policy for states. The consortium aims to have those completed by early November.

As you are well aware, data privacy has been high on the radar of the American public in the wake of the National Security Agency disclosures. An echo of that concern has been ricocheting around the education world, as well, with some people worrying about how the two federally funded assessment consortia will gather and use student data as their member states administer tests to the vast majority of K-12 students in the country.

“The key principle here is that states own the data, and will continue to own it,” Willhoft told me in a phone call after the vote. “Smarter Balanced doesn’t get the data from states and do whatever it wants to with it. Anything we do, we have to have states’ permission to do.”

In other action at the meeting, the Smarter Balanced governing states voted to clarify the testing window, which is the block of time during which a state can administer the tests.

That window had been described as “the last 12 weeks of the school year.” But that proved confusing for schools on a block schedule or a shorter calendar year. So the consortium voted to change that test-window description to beginning after two-thirds of instruction had been completed, and running through the end of the school year.

In high school, the test-window had been described as the last seven weeks of the school year. The consortium voted to change that description, saying it would commence after 80 percent of instruction and run through the end of the school year. Part of the reasoning behind the change, Willhoft said, is to push the window closer to the end of the year. Because the consortium’s 11th grade test is the one that will determine college readiness, the SBAC states felt it was best to allow for as much instruction before the test as possible.

The test-window policy also allows states the authority to create the test-window schedules that align with their policy goals, Willhoft said. If teacher evaluations are based in part on test-score data, for instance, states will have to be mindful of the timing of tests to guard against allegations that teachers whose students were tested at the beginning of the test window were at a disadvantage compared with those whose students had more instruction before taking the test.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.