LAS VEGAS — Would you like to see the information the State of Nevada is keeping on your child?
You may have to take out a loan.
The State Department of Education recently notified one Washoe County parent it would cost him more than $10,000.
When John Eppolito, a parent of four, asked to view the information the state is warehousing on his children, he was informed that "the Department’s Director of Information Technology… has estimated that the cost will be approximately $10,194."
“Please understand,” wrote Judy Osgood, department public information officer, “that the primary purpose of the Department of Education’s [database] is to support required state and federal reporting, funding of local education agencies, education accountability, and public reporting. The system currently is not capable of responding to the type of individual student data request you have presented."
Eppolito, concerned about the privacy of his children after the state in 2010 joined a consortium of other states sharing students’ data, had asked to “see” the information the state had stored on his children.
For that to happen, however, said department IT Director Glenn Meyer, what would be required would be a data request, a "data dump" and charges for programming time to create a "report."
So far the state has invested more than seven years and $10 million in the state’s K-12 student-information database, federal grant records show. Yet the system has no capacity to cost-effectively allow parents to see the data collected on their children.
The system is currently called “SAIN” — an acronym for "System of Accountability Information in Nevada." The “accountability" part, however, appears oriented toward almost everyone but the students’ own parents.
Moreover, the state appears to be in violation of the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, called “FERPA.” Under the law, parents are entitled to review and inspect their children’s educational records, whether maintained at the level of school, district or state.
"If the district is storing their information there [in the state database], then [the department] would have to abide by FERPA," officials at the Family Policy Compliance Office, the federal agency over FERPA, told Nevada Journal.
"They are supposed to provide [parents] the opportunity to inspect and review [records] upon request," explained an FPCA official. "There shouldn't be a fee for inspecting and reviewing the records.”
According to FERPA regulations, parental inspection applies to "Any State educational agency (SEA) and its components." Regulations do allow fees for "copies" of records unless "the imposition of a fee effectively prevents a parent or eligible student from exercising the right to inspect and review the student's education records." In no case may an educational agency "charge a fee to search for or to retrieve the education records of a student."
Requests for inspection should be in writing, and education entities then have 45 days to comply. Parents can request to inspect and review their child's educational records — whether from the school, district or state levels — and can challenge those records. FERPA also applies to postsecondary education students.
The Family Policy Compliance Office also handles complaints.
When Nevada Journal recounted the FPCO statements to Osgood via email, she wrote back that department officials “would like to speak with these same officials, to confirm that we have a shared understanding.
“NDE does provide free access to education records,” she said, citing Nevada Report Card, but again insisted that “SAIN was not designed for student-level inspection. Our understanding of FERPA is that this level of inspection applies to the LEA [local education authority – i.e., school district] and school.”
Osgood said department officials “are examining the possibility of a new interface and other changes, all as part of the 2015-2017 budget preparation process. That research is ongoing. No funding was allocated in the current biennium.”
As far back as the Nevada Legislature’s 2003 special session, state lawmakers seeking federal dollars had agreed to establish a student-tracking data system. Under the reigning federal paradigm at the time — No Child Left Behind — the stated intent was to allow each state to track its pupils' performance over time.
That was still the federal frame of reference in2007, when the Nevada Department of Education put up a $5.5 million in-kind “match” and received a $6 million federal grant to expand what is now called SAIN. The expressed goal was to "efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, disaggregate, and use individual student data" in order to "generate and use accurate and timely data" for various state and federal reporting requirements, such as AYP (“adequate yearly progress”) and the Nevada Report Card.
However, beginning with the Obama administration, the federal government has sought to greatly expand the amount of individual student data collected, shared and analyzed, by expanding state educational database systems to track individuals from their pre-kindergarten years well into adulthood, into data systems now referred to as “Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems.”
For the past seven years, all Nevada public school students, including charter school students, have been “data-tracked” daily through school district “Student Information Systems.”
Over 800 data points are now collected and stored in SAIN. Under a 2012 federal grant for $4 million,those data elements will “evolve” as Nevada, too, expands its pre-K-to-workforce longitudinal database system.
Every night, says Osgood, the data points are automatically uploaded into SAIN.
Since 2009, SAIN-like systems have emerged and expanded across the country to store, connect and share individual information across agencies, state lines with other states and outside groups.
One such sharing consortium, "Smarter Balanced," receives student data from the State of Nevada. It describes itself as a "state-led consortium working collaboratively to develop next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards."
But while Smarter Balanced calls itself "state-led," it operates on a federal grant of $175,849,539, and its federal contract commits it to providing "timely and complete access to any and all data collected at the State level to [the U. S. Department of Education] or its designated program monitors, technical assistance providers, or researcher partners, and to GAO, and the auditors conducting the audit required by 34 CFR section 80.26." (Emphasis added.)
"They can give information on my children to third parties, but I can't see it?" says Eppolito.
He is currently president of Americans for Better Schools, a Nevada grassroots organization opposing Common Core State Standards.