Special Education

Suit Targets ACT on Student Privacy

By Catherine Gewertz — August 21, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A group of college-bound students with special needs and their parents have filed suit against ACT Inc., claiming the test-maker illegally disclosed to colleges that they have disabilities.

The class action, filed Aug. 6 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, challenges the way the Iowa-based company uses information about students with disabilities. It collects that information as part of the “profile” students fill out online as they register for the college-admission exam, as well as an information form that students complete on the day of the exam.

Introductory text in the profile tells students they can skip any question they don’t want to answer but says it’s intended to “help you think about your future education and to help colleges in their planning.”

Instead of keeping it confidential, though, the suit says, ACT shares it with colleges by “flagging” their test-score reports, indicating that the scores were earned by someone who took the exam with accommodations.

ACT and the College Board, which sponsors the SAT, agreed years ago to stop flagging the test scores of students who take the exam with accommodations, after that practice drew widespread criticism.

But the new lawsuit says the version of the score report that ACT sends to colleges shows information about disabilities, while the version that goes to students and their high schools does not.

Influencing Admissions?

Using students’ personal information that way “stigmatizes” them as they apply to college, Rahul Ravipudi, a lawyer on the students’ legal team, said in a statement.

Edward Colby, a spokesman for ACT, said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit also takes issue with ACT for selling students’ information to colleges, scholarship programs, and other organizations for recruitment and marketing.

It says that ACT sells a searchable database to enrollment managers at colleges, billing it as a way to find the “right students for your institution” and provide the right support so students can succeed.

That information, however, can also help colleges “create markets that intentionally exclude categories of students based upon the data elements provided, including students with disabilities,” the suit says.

“ACT profits off these violations and uses them to gain an edge in the marketplace over its only competitor, the College Board, which does not disclose students’ disabilities to colleges and universities,” the lawsuit says.

The students—from families in California, Colorado, and Nevada—claim that their work prospects could also be affected because the data report created by ACT’s WorkKeys assessment, a popular career-readiness test, suggests that they took that exam with accommodations.

“Tens of thousands of employers may have access to this data at any given time,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit describes how ACT’s information-sharing practices played out for the students.

Halie Bloom, who lives in Newport Beach, Calif., graduated from high school this past spring. Because of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a reading disability, she’s had an individualized education program, or IEP, since middle school.

Bloom took the ACT several times with approved accommodations. ACT acquired the information about her disability in her test registration. The score reports it sent to the colleges she requested included a notation that she had a “learning or cognitive disability.”

Bloom will attend the University of Arizona in the fall. But she believes that colleges and scholarship organizations may have declined to consider her after ACT shared her disability status with them.

“I was shocked to learn that ACT was using my disability information against me and making it more difficult for me to get into college and get the money I need to go to college,” Bloom said in a statement. “I’m speaking out, because I know that someone has to stand up for all of the students who are scared about how their disabilities will be used against them.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order that would bar ACT from collecting or disclosing students’ disability status to third parties as of the next administration of the test, in September. It also seeks damages for violation of students’ privacy and civil rights.

A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 2018 edition of Education Week as Suit Targets ACT on Student Privacy

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Florida Changed Rules for Special Education Students. Why Many Say It’s Wrong
The new rule contains a more specific definition of what it means to have a “most significant cognitive disability.”
Jeffrey S. Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
7 min read
Richard Corcoran, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education sits next to Florida Department of Education Board Chair Andy Tuck as they listen to speakers during Thursday morning's Florida Department of Education meeting. The board members of the Florida Department of Education met Thursday, June 10, 2021 at the Florida State College at Jacksonville's Advanced Technology Center in Jacksonville, Fla. to take care of routine business but then held public comments before a vote to remove critical race theory from Florida classrooms.
Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, and Andy Tuck, the chair of the state’s board of education, listen to speakers at a meeting  in June.
Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP
Special Education 6 Ways to Communicate Better With Parents of Students With Learning Differences
For students who learn or think differently, a strong network of support is key. Here are 6 tips for bridging the communication gap between families and schools.
Marina Whiteleather
3 min read
network of quote bubbles
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Special Education Whitepaper
4 Ways to Support Students at Risk for Dyslexia
Read this white paper: Dyslexia Screening and the Use of Acadience™ Reading and discover four distinct ways educators can improve student...
Content provided by Voyager Sopris Learning
Special Education New York City Will Phase Out Controversial Gifted and Talented Program
The massive change is aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
4 min read
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Brittainy Newman/AP