Utah’s Core Standards, Assessments and Privacy Regulations

A recent press release from the Utah Education Coalition contains errors and misinformation about Utah’s core standards, assessments and privacy regulations. Here are my responses to this release:

1Personally identifiable student data has never been shared with or requested by the federal government. Utah retains control over student data.  While there have been some recent revisions to FERPA regulations, the law still clearly states who has access to information and under what circumstances. Still in all cases the law is “permissive” not “obligatory;” that is, Utah may share the data but it is never obliged to share it. Utah won’t share the data without compelling reasons and then only within the strictest confines of federal law.

2.  The State Board of Education has control over the standards and assessments for Utah.  The State Board can and will change them as needed without outside group or federal approval.  The State Board is solely responsible for overseeing the implementation of the standards in our state.

3.  Utah has not lost its autonomy over standards and assessments.  Utah reviews and updates core standards on a regular basis – typically improving and raising the bar on what Utah students need to know. The Utah core standards for Mathematics and Reading/English Language Arts were approved during the Board’s August 6 meeting. The State Board adopted them based on the quality of the standards. They were not adopted due to federal pressure, federal recommendations or federal money.

4.  The Utah core standards:

  • May be changed by the State Board at any time.
  • Were not developed, funded or mandated by the federal government.
  • Are not federal or national standards.
  • Were not obligatory because of Utah’s Race to the Top application.
  • Are not under the control or manipulation of special interest groups.
  • Are not obligatory because of Utah’s NCLB flexibility request application.

In a letter dated March 7, 2012, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of the United States Department of Education affirmed that “states have the sole right to set learning standards.” In Utah’s flexibility request we informed the Department of Education that we have chosen to use our Utah core standards. If and when the State Board decides to change or revise Utah’s standards they will do so.

5.  Occasionally, the Department of Education has wrongly and problematically appeared to take credit for the standards. For example, an application for a federal grant for development of assessments erroneously stated that the standards were released by the Department of Education. This has led to confusion over who wrote the core. Stephanie Shipton from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) reaffirmed in an email to the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) on March 27, 2012, “The statement ‘Common Core Standards released by the Department of Education’ is factually incorrect (assuming you are referring to the U.S. Department of Education). The NGA Center and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) hold the copyright. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education played no role in the development process (including but not limited to financial contributions, input on the standards, and input on the process).”

6.  Utah applied to receive a Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, but did not receive one. At a federal government level, the Department of Education has in the past two years issued grants that encourage the use of the Common Core, Charter Schools, Educator Evaluation systems that include accountability for student growth, performance incentives, interventions for low-performing schools and other initiatives. Utah is under no obligation associated with RTTT and does not receive any RTTT funds.

7.  Utah is using the state procurement process to implement a new assessment system and to determine future assessment purchases. Utah participates in a consortium of states to develop assessments and a computer adaptive assessment system. The consortium called SBAC receives federal funds from a federal grant. Utah signed a document agreeing to participate in the development of the Smarter Balanced Assessment System.  Utah agreed to use the assessments if the state is still an SBAC governing state in the 2014-2015 school year. Utah may withdraw from the consortium at any time through a formal exit process.  To date, six states have terminated their participation in the consortium with a 1-7 day process. Utah can choose to use SBAC or reject it.

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16 comments to Utah’s Core Standards, Assessments and Privacy Regulations

  • AnissaW

    Number one (FERPA) on your list is completely false. USOE and local school districts can try to spin this any way they want, however it is incorrect. All parents should do their own homework on this and the common core issue and see the FACTS and make a decision on their own. USOE has not provided fact based information to refute the information sent out by other groups.

  • [...] Brenda Hales wrote on the Utah State Board of Education and Utah State Office of Education’s blog that the press release was “contains errors and misinformation about Utah’s core standards, assessments and privacy regulations.”  She made the following points: 1.  Personally identifiable student data has never been shared with or requested by the federal government. Utah retains control over student data.  While there have been some recent revisions to FERPA regulations, the law still clearly states who has access to information and under what circumstances. Still in all cases the law is “permissive” not “obligatory;” that is, Utah may share the data but it is never obliged to share it. Utah won’t share the data without compelling reasons and then only within the strictest confines of federal law. [...]

  • Debbra Smith

    I understand the board’s need to explain the adoption of the common core. However, as an educator I want to see a clear plan laid out that isn’t a revolving target, so when I’m held accountable for student progress there is valid, measurable process in place to do so. With the standards frequently changing its difficult to get a true measure on progress. Comparing one year’s CRT scores to the following year’s CRT scores isn’t a valid measurement of progress. We need to take a good look at what the states that are ranked in the top ten in education are doing and come with a comprehensive plan that will allow Utah to be among the top ranked states. Being reactive isn’t going to get us there. We need to be proactive and it needs to be what’s best for our children. From reading the above statements it appears that the state is more concerned over states’ rights than what’s best for the education of our children.

  • MB

    Dear Brenda: Where I grew up, my school taught me an essential aspect of report writing was to provide resources to back up facts. If I did not, I would have to re-do my project. If I provided lies instead of facts I would get an F. You, my friend, have an F. What on earth is your motivation to push these lies? Why does the truth hurt? By this point in time you’ve had ample opportunity to read the binding contracts. Are you looking for political gain? I prefer to hear the truth with facts I can look up: http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/christel-swasey-responds-to-brenda-hales/ Please listen to the parents of Utah’s children.

    • Christel’s analysis in point 1, regarding personally-identifiable data, wanders back and forth between data that would allow a person to be identified, and “student-level” data. Student-level data can use randomized, nonsense identifiers like 12s47s8fd9231 instead of personally-identifiable information like a person’s name or social security number. In other words, student level data can be – and typically is – deidentified.

      The above analysis rails against the potential dangers of sharing personally-identifiable data, and then slides smoothly into a discussion of SBAC, saying that ‘states are obligated to share data with the federal government “on an ongoing basis”‘ – leaving the reader to understand that states are obligated to share personally-identifiable data.

      But what does the document you link to actually say? That the grant recipient will “make student-level data that results from the assessment system available on an ongoing basis for research, including for prospective linking, validity, and program improvement studies; subject to applicable privacy laws.”

      Wow! So the recipient is obliged to share student-level data only, not personally-identifiable data, and the data sharing is only for the purpose of research studies, and the data sharing is subject to applicable privacy laws. This is not quite the “sky-is–falling-we’re-required-to share-personally-identifiable-data” problem it was so smoothly made out to be.

      I stopped reading after I noticed this slight-of-hand trick in the analysis. I was frankly disappointed after all the chatter at the top of the document about facts and being able to “verify what is claimed.” This was literally the first link I followed, and you’ve completely mischaracterized what it says. Too bad.

  • [...] have tried to tamp down concerns that opponents of the common core have expressed.  They have done so without providing any documentation that supports their claims.  Alisa Ellis, a Utah resident, sent a letter to Brenda Hales, Utah [...]

  • It troubles me when good meaning people, with good intentions in their hearts, have panic attacks about the collection and analysis of data. Yes, it’s personal information. But it’s absolutely critical to have access to this data – and effective analysis tools and support – for educating effectively. Take the following non-sensical example:

    A man goes to his doctor and says, “My back hurts.”

    The doctor says, “Upper or lower back? Is it a sharp pain, or a dull pain?”

    The man answers, “I’m not comfortable sharing that information with you.”

    The doctor protests, “Then I really can’t give you any specific advice or help. Please share some more information with me so I can make a meaningful diagnosis.”

    The man shoots back, “I don’t want you invading my privacy. That’s personal information you’re asking for.”

    The doctor sighs and responds, “Then take two aspirin. That will be $235.”

    Now imagine a parent sending their child to school and saying to the school / district / state, “I want a top notch, highly effective, personalized education for my student. And I prohibit you from gathering, tracking, or analyzing any data about my student while providing it.” That student is going to receive a $6,000 pair of educational aspirin tablets – completely generic, non-specific, and likely not very helpful.

    Not only do we need to find less obtrusive ways to gather significantly MORE data, we ABSOLUTELY need reasonable data sharing agreements so that appropriate specialists and researchers can assist in helping teachers interpret this data – the same way your family practice doctor shares your health data with specialists when s/he needs help. And we need to be sharing this data with others – including researchers with federal funding – so that researchers can uncover larger trends about what works well, and with whom, and under what circumstances.

    The state of education in the US will continue to languish unless we get serious about research at a grander scale. We need a better empirical footing under much of what goes on in the classroom, and we’re not going to get it by prohibiting the collection of data or by preventing researchers from gathering large enough sets of data to ask and answer meaningful questions.

    And to MB who commented above, linking to the Christel Swasey response, I’ll copy my comment on her response here since I doubt Utahn’s Against Common Core will allow it to appear on their blog.

    • David Wiley,

      Your doctor-patient analogy doesn’t work. A patient has used his/her free agency to give the doctor consent in a real doctor-patient scenario, whereas in the case of Dr. Department of Education and students, no consent is asked for, nor is now even legally required. You are advocating for the removal of consent. No amount of eduspeak makes up for that.

      Christel Swasey

  • Janice Johnson

    My understanding of the development of the new core is that its inception was based on the desire to raise the bar for our students to meet the expectations of not only superior states, but international student knowledge and skills.

    Assessment is the only way in which we can tell if students are learning, it the core is appropriate, and if particular groups of students or students in general are acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to possess for success in college or careers. It was hoped that by sharing the expenses of assessment development, we could have better and more sophisticated ones. Analysis of student assessment data must be part of developing and adjusting instruction, testing, and expectations. Data for students is essential for this process to be successful. Everyone who works with student data is bound by FERPA rules. Of all of the reservations people have about the new core, concern about the misuse of student data and information is the least likely to be a realistic concern.

    • Dakota

      Janice it is clear that you believe the rhetoric that is being sold to you about common core and the data gathering that goes on with testing. Did you know that the testing is adaptive so that students who struggle get progressively easier questions until they reach a mediocre point and the students that excel get progressively harder questions until they to are showing at a mediocre level. It is not an asset to the student. It is the dumbing down of America. For instance with common core math they use a complex system of box drawing to do long division, it is time consuming and taxing and does not teach a student how to think.In addition to this the student then is not graded on whether the awnser is right or wrong but rather on how the problem was solved. Well, I hate to break it to the liberals but the right awnser does count in math. If I am an accountant I better dang well end up with the right awnser.
      In addition to that very troubling concept teachers and parents alike are not allowed to see what is or was on the test. It is highly secret what is asked and older children who have spoken out about disturbing questions are repremanded.
      The concept of “common core” and governement led education is not new. That was one of the first things Hitler did was to implement indoctrination into the schools. He was known to have said the people will tolerate almost anything if you can make them believe it is for the good of the children.
      If you look at what the commmon core History curriculum teaches and how it changes the meaning of the second amendment, leaves out important information about the founding fathers, nearly eliminates all mention of christianity but includes 39 pages of information on Islam and how Allah is the one true god, you also might be very troubled by this so called common core. I would encourage you to do your own research and look at both sides before handing the future of your children and mine over the government!

  • [...] claims about what effect the new standards will have on public education and children in Utah. The latest comes from Brenda Hales of the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) and a response by Christel [...]

  • [...] press release was sent out earlier in the day causing Brenda Hales, a USOE administrator, to post a statement on the Utah Public Education website trying to offer the official line on Common Core.  I  challenged her statement with this [...]

  • [...] based on our research. All page numbers refer to our full report, and we made format changes to USOE quotes to maintain [...]

  • Autumn Cook

    The eagerness with which some would throw aside basic rights to privacy in a galloping charge for an educational panacea is disturbing. I understand what the new FERPA regulations make possible, because I’ve seen data-sharing of students without parental consent in action, and it is really ugly. I keep hearing, “We HAVE to throw aside personal rights, because they’re getting in the way of educational progress!”

    Let’s theorize that intensive data collection about every aspect of a student’s life can lead to personalized plans that succeed in raising the math achievement scores of 100% of the population. What progress have we really made, when every one of us lives so exposed, so scrutinized, so powerless to have a say in what people know about us or don’t?

    I hope the people advocating for these data-collecting powers don’t ever have to live under the system they’re trying to create. I have to think it would be unpleasant even to them, with personal rights discarded for someone else’s dream of what they can make us into. By all means, put research and data to work to improve things, but go through the proper channels which respect individual rights – however onerous those channels – or the gains will be far outshadowed by the losses to our society.

  • David, your analogy is silly. Schools already have that type of information. It comes in the form of regular testing and having children interact with teachers. They know all the basic problems with the patient. If the doctor in your analogy starts asking the patient “do you have any guns in your home?” I’m going to hope the patient doesn’t answer that question. It’s crossing the line. There are many things that researchers would love to know about children that are bad ideas for them to have access to. Utah state laws prevent much of these types of things from being gathered and yet researchers keep trying to get it because they deem their work more important than personal privacy. Having personally identifiable information shared with 3rd parties should have the ACLU screaming about it and yet they’re strangely silent so far.

    Are you familiar with Project Follow Through? The most expensive longitudinal education study in history that researchers ignored because it didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. It proved that direct instruction was many times more effective than constructivism, so they set it aside and kept plunging money, resources, and our children into constructivism.

    Dr. Douglas Carnine wrote a paper published by the Fordham Institute entited, “Why Education Experts Resist Effective Practices (And What It Would Take to Make Education More Like Medicine).” In it he said, “Until education becomes the kind of profession that reveres evidence, we should not be surprised to find its experts dispensing unproven methods, endlessly flitting from one fad to another. The greatest victims of these fads are the very students who are most at risk.”

    Look at the graph on page 12 of this pdf and you’ll see what this study concluded and why Dr. Carnine makes his observation.
    http://www.scboces.k12.co.us/english/IMC/Focus/DirectInstruction-carnine_article.pdf

    Educators don’t need more information to make determinations about what works because we’ve known it for decades. They need to believe the facts and work to improve what works and stop trying to go back to square one just because they have to publish something to be relevant.

    P.S. I don’t know why you said you doubt the UtahnsAgainstCommonCore.com website would publish your reply. We’ve published every one of yours and anyone elses that was in opposition to our views.

  • Denise Carman

    Brenda states ” Personally identifiable student data has never been shared with or requested by the federal government.”

    Perhaps this has not happened yet. However, John Brandt (Grant Director for the Utah Data Alliance) explained in a presentation that one of the “UTREx objectives” is to “Automate vertical retrieval of student records” which can then be shared from the “USOE” to the “U.S. Deptarment of Education.” (see his PowerPoint presentation given on Feb. 17, 2012 at the NCIS-MIS in San Diego, CA, slide #6).

    So, if these are the objectives of the system, I wonder what could constitute a “compelling reason” to share a wealth of information about my child, gathered without my consent, with the federal government? Perhaps a simple request from them, since the U.S. Dept. of Ed. funded the database?

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