House Bill 2133 would require report on collection and sharing of private student data

January 15, 2014

House Bill 2133, sponsored by Representative Elizabeth Scott (R-Monroe) and Representative Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle), would require the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) to prepare a report showing how the following agreements and laws require or permit the sharing of personally identifiable student data or student-level data from Washington state students, without the written consent of students or their parents or guardians:

Agreements relating to the state fiscal stabilization fund;

Agreements relating to the federal Race to the top assessment program grant;

Agreements relating to the race to the top grant application submitted by the state of Washington;

Agreements between the U.S. Department of Education and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the state of Washington;

The evergreen state P-20 longitudinal data system federal grant;

The comprehensive education data and research system;

The elementary and secondary education act waiver application submitted by the state of Washington;

The longitudinal student data system established under RCW 28A.300.500;

The operations and activities of the education data center under RCW 43.41.400;

The 2011 amendments to the federal regulations under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. 

The bill requires JLARC to submit the analysis and findings to the education committees of the legislature by September 1, 2014.  

In the digital age people are rightly worrying about protecting their privacy and that of their children.  After all, Target had to notify millions of customers that their private credit and debit records had been stolen. Recent news reports reveal that Target’s customers’ names and addresses were also compromised to aggressive computer hackers. People’s e-mail and phone calls are already being monitored by the National Security Administration.

Parents are worried too. School officials recognize these parental concerns, and regularly promise parents the student data records of their children will be secure, protected and kept private. For example, the Seattle School District website assures parents that:

“...student data is protected and shared appropriately with partners.  Many improvements have been made by improving processes and putting in place internal controls to ensure that we are protecting the confidentiality of student records. [Emphasis in original]

Over the past decade the federal government has required state officials to increase the amount of academic and non-academic data collected on students attending Washington’s schools.  At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education has relaxed federal privacy laws to allow government agencies broader leeway in the sharing of students’ data with non-school entities, without first obtaining parental consent. This expansion of data collection and weakening of federal privacy laws concerns many parents and members of the public. The resulting labyrinth of rules and exceptions also makes it very difficult for the lay public to follow and understand the policies governing this information.  

National leaders are now expressing their deep concern about these developments, and about the dangers loss of parental control over student data may mean for their children. For example, as U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) stated in a recent letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

“…Sensitive information such as students’ behavior and participation patterns may also be included in files outsourced to third-party data firms and potentially distributed more widely to companies without parental consent.  Such loss of parental control over their child’s educational records and performance information could have longstanding consequences for the future prospects of students.”

The JLARC study required by SB 2133 would inform the legislature and the public about the full extent of data now collected on students in the schools, and which student data parents do and do not control.