November 26, 2001

    TESTING AND DATA COLLECTION
   
Standardized state and federal tests face controversy throughout the
country as every state is pushed into compliance with the new education
system.  Teachers and schools are becoming so increasingly focused on
practicing for and administering required state and federal tests that
genuine teaching often takes a back seat. Teaching to the test has
become the core curriculum. 

While tests have always been used to measure what students learn,
assessments mandated from the federal government that dictate what
teachers must teach have been foreign to our free way of life. 
Mandated federal tests, standards and curriculum are brazenly
unconstitutional.  Calling them "voluntary" is an added insult in
light of the rewards and sanctions federal law is attaching to the
test results.

In addition, the state and federal "academic" assessments and numerous
student surveys collect and store extensive personal data on students,
teachers, schools, parents and families.  They collect not only
detailed personal information, they collect and store information on
the beliefs, the attitudes and the values of students. 

For example, on assignment to a 6th grade class to meet the one a MN
state standards probes the students' beliefs about death:

"    True or False or Uncertain
Death is a result of evil in the world.
It is possible to fear life more than death.
There is a life after death.
Death is a new beginning rather than a final ending.
When a relative or friend dies, I must somehow accept the loss of the
    physical presence of this person in my life.
The best way to prepare for death is to live a life of love.   "

Then the student is to answer open-ended questions regarding their own
experiences with death, what feelings they evoked, feelings about the
student's own death, where the student believes he/she acquired these
feelings about his/her death, and so on.  Unfortunately, these are not
uncommon examples.  The parent is not part of this discussion.  After
doing this assignment, the student has revealed the most intimate details
of his/her beliefs and values. The information becomes part of the
student's permanent data record. Future surveys will track changes in the
student's worldview. 

What happened to the "right to privacy" when we really need it?  What
right does government have invading our children in this manner?  And
what happened to history and geography?  This sort of curriculum is
commonly substituting for real education.

If you doubt that test data is being collected and stored on national
databases, refer to information put out by the U.S. Department of
Education, such as the "Student Data Handbook."
http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/quarterly/summer/2feat/q2-9.html

"These systems provide teachers and others concerned with effective
program design with day-to-day access to information about the
students' background, learning experiences, and performance. They
also provide the flexibility necessary to supply aggregate data to
school boards, state and federal governments, and other interested
parties and to conduct program evaluations. To be effective, however,
these systems must record data accurately and comparably for all
students, in all places, and at all times."

The Student Data Handbook promotes "comparability of data at the local,
state and national levels including data reported by the Common Core of
Data (CCD) survey." (See Common Core of Data:
http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/quarterly/summer/2feat/q2-9.html)

The 2000 version states that the following "data elements" "represent
the types of information that could be collected":
    personal information;
    enrollment;
    school participation and activities;
    nonschool and postschool experience;
    assessment;
    transportation;
    health conditions;
    special program participation and student support services; and
    discipline

The Common Core of Data states that they are a "comprehensive, annual,
national statistical database...designed to be comparable across all
states."  Their data on students and staff "includes name, address,
phone number, and type of locale; the data on students and staff include
selected demographic characteristics." 

The NAEP (the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress) is
two-thirds personal, demographic information-gathering.  Mandated
statewide assessments (MCAs in Minnesota) and Basic Skills Tests inquire
extensively about personal, demographic questions.  Surveys of many
kinds are continually collecting personal data on students.  The
Search Institute Survey probes deeply into family and personal
experiences, relationships and beliefs.  Organizations like 4-H conduct
sampling surveys of the personal beliefs and values of its members. All
of this information ends up in national databases that have been set up
with "comparable" systems --that is, data sharing is easily compatible.

(For an article on who has access to the NAEP data, see:
http://www.mredco.com/NAEP112.html)

As the Student Handbook points out, "Teachers can analyze student
performance using a variety of types of information and decide what
concepts need to be retaught or reinforced."  Since personal beliefs
and values make up such an important part of this data system, it
will not be simply teachers, but curriculum developers, as well, who
will use this data to create the "outcome" they have established.

The Student Data Handbook has 26 categories alone for religious
affiliations. They provide 18 different categories for identification
numbers, including health record number, school-assigned number,
social security number, ACT code, U.S. Department of Education
number, private association number, and so on.

The Handbook provides 18 categories for types of assessments.  One is
an "attitudinal test -- An assessment to measure the mental and
emotional set or pattern of likes and dislikes or opinions held by
a student or group of students.  This is often used in relation to
considerations such as controversial issues or personal adjustments."

Performance Assessments are listed (that would be Minnesota's Profile
of Learning).  Number 15 is a "Psychological test -- An assessment to
measure a sample of behavior in an objective and standardized way."

Not surprisingly, "Career Objectives -- A student's occupational plan
or aspirations" is a data element that provide various options.  The Data
Handbook provides a way to provide information "about a student's
participation in cocurricular or extracurricular activities under the
sponsorship of the school," with 100 options listed. "Non-school
Activity" also has a code with 15 options.

As the Student Handbook points out, "Teachers can analyze student
performance using a variety of types of information and decide what
concepts need to be retaught or reinforced."  Since personal beliefs
and values make up such an important part of this data system, it
will not be simply teachers, but curriculum developers, as well, who
will use this data to create the "outcome" they have established.

CONFIDENTIAL vs. ANONYMOUS
Data collecting that is "confidential" is not anonymous.  Anonymous
means that no one knows who answers the questions -- ever.  "Confidential"
means that while the general public will not see the results, many
individuals, institutions and levels of government have access.  If there
is never tracking of specific answers to specific people, why are unique
identifying numbers assigned to students' tests and surveys?  The
word "confidential" is a red flag that means answers are stored in a
"confidential" database available for a lifetime to vast numbers of people
unknown to the parents or student.

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)
allows information in student records to be disclosed without student
or parental permission to school employees, other schools to which a
student is transferring, certain government officials, parties
associated with financial aid, organizations conducting certain
studies, accrediting organizations, and others.

FERPA guarantees students and/or their parents the right to inspect
and review all of their education records maintained by the school or
school district, and the right to request that a school correct records
believed inaccurate or misleading. Unfortunately, much of the data
collection and storage is aggregated outside of the school and the
school district.

For more on data privacy, see Chapter 13 from THE SEAMLESS WEB, the
chapter written by Dr. Karen Effrem, available at:
http://mredcopac.org/Seamless%20Web/chap_13.pdf

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO? (PART I):

1. Never agree to let your child participate in surveys.  It is not
the business of schools, communities or organizations to be collecting
data on your child. 

2. Recognize that "confidential" does not mean "anonymous."   Don't be
fooled into thinking that no one will have access to "confidential"
data.

3. Include a "Parental Informed Consent Notice" in your child's file
at school. The letter would serve notice that you require a five day
prior notification of any statewide test or assessment being given to
your child.  It would also serve notice that you refuse permission for
your child to participate in any survey, whether involving aptitudes
personality, interests, opinions, beliefs or experiences without your
prior written consent.

4. Refuse to have your child participate in the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (NAEP) if he/she is selected.  Your child is not
required to participate.

(For Minnesota parents)
5. If your child attends a private school, your child has no legal
obligation to take part in the Basic Skills Tests.  If your private
school participates in the Basic Skills Tests, encourage your school
administration to look into the matter further and stop its
participation in the federal data collecting system of our children.
Also consider opting your child out of the tests.

As stated by Samuel Blumenfeld, "It is absolutely essential, if we
are to remain a free people, that this entire data-collection system
be stopped and dismantled.  It has no place in a free society.  The
legislation that authorized it must be repealed or rescinded or
defunded."