From the Statehouse

Data security efforts raise concerns from Ritz allies

Three new bills under consideration this week could redefine how the state’s education data is managed, accessed, and stored.

The bills have different goals. While one seeks to connect multiple layers of Indiana students’ information in one place, pulling together K-12, college, and workforce data to learn what skills students need for future jobs, two others aim to defend against concerns about privacy.  

Despite their differences, all three bills have provoked concerns about who controls Indiana’s education data and how to protect it.

One concern stems from arguments by critics of the new Common Core standards. By adopting the new standards, the critics have said, Indiana could make its students’ data vulnerable to being shared outside the state, such as with the federal government or private vendors. Other states that have participated in the Common Core standards have signed agreements to share their students’ data with federal government, the critics point out.

Proponents of more sophisticated use of education data have advocated for creating large data warehouses that can be used, for example, to track student test scores over time with the hopes that the information could be useful in improving instruction, such as through teacher evaluation. But critics of this idea fear that the data-gathering could be used by the federal government to take control of educational decision making or put students’ personal information at risk of being stolen or sold to private companies.

Another point of contention in Indiana has to do with the ongoing battle between State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Governor Mike Pence over the state’s education direction. While the battle between the two has to do with different ideas about how to improve schools, the weapons have been control over various state education apparatuses — and data is a key tool that each wants to control.

A new “data czar?”

It was House Bill 1003 that first raised alarms.

Authored by Rep. Steve Braun, R-Zionsville, it would create a new state agency under Gov. Mike Pence that aims to bring together data from K-12 schools, colleges, the state’s workforce development arm and business leaders with the goal of spotting trends and helping schools adapt to employer needs.

The bill immediately generated criticism from the state’s largest teachers union, which characterized the head of the new agency as a “data czar” and another threat to Ritz’s authority of the Indiana Department of Education and the data it manages.

Under the headline “Dangerous student, parent and teacher data bill being pushed in the Indiana legislature,” the Indiana State Teachers Association warned its affiliates on Jan. 18 on its blog that by creating the Indiana Knowledge Network, the bill essentially established “another new government bureaucracy” and asked supporters to oppose it.

“The bill essentially makes INK a new government database warehousing agency that will be controlled by Gov. Pence and his appointed director, who will become, in effect, the state’s ‘data czar,’ “ the post read.

The network actually already exists as the Indiana Workforce Intelligence System, a consortium that includes the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, the Indiana Department of Education and Indiana University’s Indiana Business Research Center. Each group shares data and analysis.

But the bill aims to ratchet up the use of the data through a new state agency. Its board would be made up of appointees from the departments who provide data to it — education, higher education and workforce development. Also on the board would be Pence appointees from business and universities along with two members of the House and two from the Senate.

Braun argues the bill would only allow better use of data the state already is collecting. The idea, he said, is not to change the way data is collected or how each collecting agency uses it, BUT to make connections to try to better understand the job market and how well Indiana students are prepared for it.

“We hope to do what no other state is doing today, to accurately project the future job market to inform how the education system is developing curriculum for building those skill sets, or train existing workforces.”

But Ritz thinks the bill gives too much latitude for data collection without enough accountability, said John Barnes, her lobbyist.

“Our initial concerns were about the creation of someone who is a data czar,” Barnes said. “We’re concerned about too much power in the hands of too few people and insufficient checks and balances at a time when concerns about data privacy is a hot topic. We’re concerned that the governance committee doesn’t have enough oversight power. There aren’t enough teeth in that. We’d like to see that beefed up.”

Democrats on the House Committee on Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development, where the bill was passed last week, also said they might ask for changes when the bill is considered by the full House this week.

“It’s a great bill,” said Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point. “There are a lot of great things in here. However if this bill gives carte blanche to INK to have whatever data they need on any student and access to any data the department of education, and our state holds very close in privacy, I have concerns on that.”

A data repository

Another potential battle over data security came to the fore in today’s House Education Committee meeting, during a discussion of a second education data bill that also is being considered this week. House Bill 1320, authored by committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, creates a data repository for education records.

Behning said the House Bill 1320’s purpose is to make data that schools see, but parents generally don’t, accessible so parents can learn more about how their children are performing academically. For example, the state uses student test scores over the years to predict their likelihood of each student graduating on time, he said. State test score reports will include this information in the future and the data will be accessible to parents online, Behning said.

“The goal of this is to provide additional information to parents that they are not receiving,” he said.

Union leaders and other Ritz supporters came to the hearing with lots of questions about a provision that would put this new repository under the control of the state board, not Ritz. They feared that move could have potentially allowed the state board to work around Ritz or veto her decisions about when and what type of data was released.

The bill even attracted the attention of Diane Ravith, the educational historian who has become one of the nation’s most prominent opponents of standardized testing and what she calls “big data,” as well as a supporter of Ritz.

But the Behning quickly defused any controversy when he opened the hearing by offering an amendment to keep the data under Ritz’s control. Behning said placing the repository under the state board was an error and never his intent for the bill.

“That certainly changes some of our issues with the bill,” said John O’Neil, an Indiana State Teachers Association lobbyist. “We want to make sure this isn’t a new entity created that is under the CECI or the state board.”

The bill also aims to beef up data security by adding criminal penalties for anyone who releases data that can be directly tied to students. Doing so would be a misdemeanor under the bill, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or up to a year in jail.

Behning said he would hold off on a vote until later in the week to allow committee members to review amendments and other changes to the bill.

Common Core fix

A final data bill, Senate Bill 277, is designed specifically to preempt concerns about what data-sharing efforts could mean for students’ privacy. In Indiana, the concerns have swirled around a question of whether to implement the national Common Core learning standards.

During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers responded to critics of the standards by passing a law that put a “pause” on the state’s implementation of the Common Core, This bill addresses a different concern of Common Core critics — that the standards could compromise students’ privacy.

While the Common Core itself does not require data sharing, several states adopted the standards at the same time they accepted federal Race to the Top education grants and also agreed to share data with the U.S. Department of Education.

Miller’s bill is aimed at addressing the worry that Indiana would have to share students’ personal information with the federal government or private companies.

“It’s intended to make clear when data can be shared,” Miller said. “Some folks think it may have been opened up to more of an opportunity to be shared. I’m not trying to stop anything we do currently.”

Indiana adopted Common Core standards in 2010, joining 45 other states that have agreed to follow them. The standards are aimed at making students “college and career ready” by the time they graduate high school and more able to compete against students educated in other countries. In Indiana, Common Core from opponents have argued the standards are not as strong as Indiana’s prior standards or or that they will cede too much control over the state’s education policy to the federal government, including control over student records.

“Until Common Core began, many parents had no idea how vulnerable their students’ data had become,” said Heather Crossin, co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core, who supports the bill. “They’d like to see their children’s right to privacy be assured.”

Common Core supporters have embraced the bill and the concept of data security, hoping to calm fears about the standards.

“There was no intent, no plan and no law that was going to compromise that data,” Derek Redelman, a Common Core supporter and vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said of the national standards. “But if we can allay those concerns we are ready to do so.”

Frank Bush, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said data security and Common Core go well together.

“As a Common Core supporter we strongly support this bill,” he said. “I hope it will eliminate some of the fears.”

Colorado's 2017 General Assembly

Colorado students could earn biliteracy credential on diploma

A 2010 graduation ceremony of Denver's Bruce Randolph School (Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post).

Colorado high school graduates next year likely will be able to earn a new credential that proves to colleges and employers they can communicate in at least two languages.

The House Education Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 123, which lays out the criteria students must meet to earn a biliteracy endorsement.

The bill already has won support from the state Senate and faces one last debate in the House of Representatives before going to the governor’s desk.

Three school districts began issuing their own bilingual endorsements in 2016.

Last year, the State Board of Education rejected a resolution that would have encouraged more schools to develop their own seal of biliteracy. Republicans on the board voiced concern about a lack of statewide criteria and that the endorsement would be handed out unevenly.

If this bill becomes law, that would change.

For a students to earn the seal, they would need to prove they’ve mastered both English and another language by earning at least a B in all of their language classes, earning high marks on the English portion of the SAT, and pass both an English and foreign language test provided by either the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs.

If such a test doesn’t exist for a language the student has studied, the school may either create a test that must be vetted by the state education department or the student may submit a sample of work for review.

Ella Willden, a seventh grader at Oberon Middle School in Arvada, told Colorado lawmakers she and her fellow students are excited for the chance to earn the diploma seal, and that it would mean a better shot at a good college or career after high school.

“I know many of my classmates will jump at the chance to earn this seal if given the opportunity because they want to get into some of the top schools in the nation and they want every advantage they can get,” she said. “Whether I go to college or I go to work, this seal will open doors for me throughout the state.”

overruled

Lawmakers take first step to ease testing burden for young English language learners

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post
Justin Machado, 9, reads on his iPad during his 3rd grade class at Ashley Elementary in 2015.

State lawmakers from both political parties are seeking to undo a controversial State Board of Education decision that called for schools to test thousands of Colorado’s youngest students in English — a language they are still learning.

House Bill 1160 cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday with unanimous support from the House Education Committee.

The bill would allow school districts to decide whether to use tests in English or Spanish to gauge whether students in kindergarten through third grade enrolled in dual-language or bilingual programs have reading deficiencies.

The bill is sponsored in the House of Representatives by Reps. Millie Hamner, a Frisco Democrat, and Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican.

If the bill becomes law, it would overrule a decision by the State Board of Education last year that required testing such students at least once in English. That meant some schools would need to test students twice if they wanted to gauge reading skills in a student’s native language.

Colorado’s public schools under the 2012 READ Act are required to test students’ reading ability to identify students who aren’t likely to be reading at grade-level by third grade.

The bill is the latest political twist in a years-long effort to apply the READ Act in Colorado schools that serve a growing number of native Spanish-speakers.

School districts first raised concern about double-testing in 2014, one year after the law went into effect. The state Attorney General’s office issued an opinion affirming that the intent of the READ Act was to measure reading skills, not English proficiency. The state board then changed its policy to allow districts to choose which language to test students in and approved tests in both English and Spanish.

But a new configuration of the state board in 2016 reversed that decision when it made other changes in response to a 2015 testing reform law that included tweaks to early literacy testing.

The board’s decision at the time was met with fierce opposition from school districts with large Spanish speaking populations — led by Denver Public Schools.

Lawmakers considered legislation to undo the board’s decision last year, but a committee in the Republican-controlled Senate killed it.

Capitol observers believe the bill is more likely to reach the governor’s desk this year after a change in leadership in the Senate.

Some members of the state board, at a meeting last week, reaffirmed their support for testing students in English.

Board member Val Flores, a Denver Democrat who opposed the rule change last year, said she opposes the bill. In explaining her reversal, Flores said she believes the bill would create a disincentive for schools, especially in Denver, to help Spanish-speakers learn English.

“If the district does not give the test in English, reading in English will not be taught,” she said.

Board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said he still believes the intent of the READ Act was to measure how well students were reading in English.

“I think this is a serious departure from what the legislature intended initially,” he said last week. “The READ Act had everything to do with reading in English.”

Hamner, one of the sponsors of House Bill 1160, also sponsored the READ Act in 2012. She disagrees with Durham and told the House committee Monday that the intent was always for local school districts to decide which language was appropriate.

“We’re giving the local educators and districts the decision-making authority on what’s best for the students,” she said.

Multiple speakers on Monday said the requirement to test native Spanish speakers in English was a waste of time and money, and provided bad information to teachers.

“A teacher who teaches in Spanish will not be able to use data from an English assessment to drive their instruction, much like a hearing test would not give a doctor information about a patient’s broken arm,” said Emily Volkert, dean of instruction at Centennial Elementary School in Denver.

The bill only applies to students who are native Spanish speakers because the state has only approved tests that are in English and Spanish. Students whose native language is neither English nor Spanish would be tested in English until the state approves assessments in other languages.

“The question is can you read and how well,” said bill co-sponsor Wilson. “We’re trying to simplify that.”