This is the second in a series of posts to be added by members of Utah’s Common Core SAGE test’s parent review board. Parent Molly Hunter spoke out previously and is joined now by fellow mom Christine Ruiz as a SAGE parent review committee member who also wishes to set the record straight and to expose the objectionable aspects of the tests.
SAGE Parent Review Committee Member Speaks Out
By Christine Ruiz
In 2013 the Utah Legislature mandated parental review of SAGE test questions and established what is now called the SAGE Parent Review Committee. It was a response to concerns that the computer adaptive tests could include biases or agendas that are objectionable to Utah family values.
Much has been written about the committee and unfortunately some of it has been misleading. Consequently many Utah parents are misinformed about the review committee and are making decisions with that ‘bad information’; decisions that affect their children.
I am one of those committee members and I’d like to correct the record.
The statute, 53A-1-603, is vague as it relates to our duties; “…a committee consisting of 15 parents of Utah public education students to review all computer adaptive test questions.” Yep, that’s it. Talk about your nutshell.
So, here’s what we did and didn’t do.
WE DID review all questions (about 1500 each).
WE DID flag questions for a variety of reasons (grammar, typos, content, wrong answers, glitches, etc.).
WE DID sign nondisclosure statements (agreeing not to discuss specific test questions and materials).
Now the important part …
WE DID NOT ‘approve’ the test. We were neither tasked to nor qualified to approve the test in any aspect.
It has been erroneously suggested that “…we all feel comfortable with the test” in an article by the Deseret News (Nov 2013). That’s a misleading quote from only one member of the committee. That statement was actually contradicted by another member later in the same article. But it’s no surprise here; we expect that from the media.
However, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) perpetuated that myth when it plastered that same quote all over its SAGE informational brochures. We/ I expect more due diligence from USOE.
I never received a phone call to verify that I concurred and I suspect the same is true for the rest of the committee. It was either an act of deliberate deceit or jaw-dropping negligence to tell parents across the state that the Parent Review Committee gives its blanket approval of the test. Neither option comforts me in the slightest.
I shudder to think that some parents may have decided to let their children take the SAGE because ‘we’ said it’s okay. That’s on me and every other committee member that feels the same as I, and didn’t speak out sooner.
This myth and any others perpetrated in the future will no longer go unanswered by this committee member. That’s a promise.
state statute 53A‐1‐603
(a) The State Board of Education shall establish a committee consisting of 15 parents of Utah
public education students to review all computer adaptive test questions.
(b) The committee established in Subsection (8)(a) shall include the following parent members:
(i) five members appointed by the chair of the State Board of Education;
(ii) five members appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives; and
(iii) five members appointed by the president of the Senate.
(c) The State Board of Education shall provide staff support to the parent committee.
(d) The term of office of each member appointed in Subsection (8)(b) is four years.
(e) The chair of the State Board of Education, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and
the president of the Senate shall adjust the length of terms to stagger the terms of committee
members so that approximately 1/2 of the committee members are appointed every two
(f) No member may receive compensation or benefits for the member’s service on the committee.
Email from Molly Foster (written to the other members of the 15-parent committee to review SAGE test questions)
… In the spring when I was made aware of the USOE putting words in my mouth I contacted Judy Park several times, through email and phone messages to no avail until I sent a more honest email to her one day, she immediately responded. I will enclose our emailed conversation.
…The results of the SAGE test across the state were not surprising for the 5 Supers I spoke to in southern Utah. Judy Park herself told them in training that the students would fail until they got all the curriculum aligned, this could take years, and quite frankly by then they will have another mandatory program they are shoving down each district’s throat, keeping everybody busy testing instead of teaching, and most importantly nurturing human relationships within their own schools and communities… Let’s not forget that the test scores are also tied to school grades, and teacher performance pay.
(Oak note: As we have repeated said, the problem with Common Core isn’t so much the standards, but the federal overreach and takeover of our education system. This latest development should be a major wake up call to all of Utah.)
Christel Swasey wrote this post at:
Have you seen the new regulations that just came out of the White House?
Americans who see these must run screaming to legislators for protection against the Department of Education.
The new regulations declare that Secretary Arne Duncan will amend ESEA to “phase out the authority of States to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards in order to satisfy ESEA accountability requirements. These amendments will permit, as a transitional measure, States that meet certain criteria to continue to administer alternate assessments… for a limited period of time.”
“Phasing out the authority of the states” has been precisely the point for every last one of Duncan’s promoted education reforms, from Common Core to Common Data Standards to State Longitudinal Database Systems to P-20 programs to Common Core Assessments to teacher and school evaluations.
Utahns Against Common Core have been pointing out this phase-out of local authority for over two years. Others have been saying it for decades.
But fat cats (Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, School Improvement Network, Prosperity 2020, Education First, Pearson Inc., Microsoft) –each of whom wants to sell fat educational products to the fat, “uniform customer base of Common Core” (as Gates put it) will not listen, and will mock and scorn critics because they want to get fatter and fatter on the taxpayer’s dime.
Why does such a supposedly conservative state allow the educational authority of the state to be “phased out” –because of businesses’ greed and lack of care for our children? Where are our children’s educational defenders when we need them? Where is the action behind all the flag-waving speeches that we’ve heard, now, Governor Herbert, Education Advisor Pyfer, Senator Stephenson, Representative Powell?
Why doesn’t our Governor, our legislature, our state school board, lift a finger to fight for our Constitutional right to educational self governance?
I cannot understand the apathy and the complacency and the tolerance– even at the legislative level– of all reforms aligned to the Common Core.
Is it not tragically crazy that we, as a state, willingly allow liberties –guaranteed under the supreme law of the land– to slip so easily out of our lives? We allow ourselves to be lied to by our leaders, who cradle these education reform lies in positive, appealing language, and only for one reason: cash flow. Not for our children, at all.
When will Utah, when will America, wake up to this devastation of liberty and education?
Last week, an 8th grade class in St. George began the day with this excerpt on the board………. Kudos to the student who took these photos and shared them with her mom! Please note this is not Common Core, just the secular humanism religion that is allowed in our public schools.
Getting ready for the Agency-Based Education conference this weekend has been a big job and made it harder to send out updates but there is a ton that has been happening. If you are not on the UACC Facebook Group, all of these have been posted there in the last week or so. Join now if you want up to date information about what’s happening. This post will need to last you for the next week or so, so just keep returning here and read the next item. The critical ones have a * next to them.
*Dr. Gary Thompson: SAGE/Common Core Tests Break Basic Codes of Test Ethics (Why SAGE testing is not only harmful but violates ethical standards)
*Gates Is at It Again: The Common Core-Centered “Collaborative for Student Success” (I never thought I’d say this… Thank goodness for the Huffington Post. This article lays it all bare. Read it, share it.)
*Leaked Letter: Utah Teachers’ Evaluations (Pay) Will Depend On Common Core Test Scores in 2015 (Hello and welcome to Common Core’s enforcement mechanism)
*VP of College Board’s AP U. S. History Course Discredited (Gotta love a good takedown)
*Video: NJ Symposium to Stop Common Core: Drs. Stotsky, Tienken, Pesta, Williams, Borelli and Borelli (from a recent conference, watch some great videos here)
States Listen as Parents Give Rampant Testing an F (about standardized testing in Florida)
DOJ grants $63 million for social justice school discipline promoted by Bill Ayers (shocking, I know)
Be “That Parent” (this one will motivate you)
Your children deserve better than this, first-grade teachers tell parents (stop high-stakes testing on little kids)
What missing class in Kindergarten means for high school (There are a variety of reasons children miss school. However, ending compulsory education laws would do more to ensure children were enticed to school, rather than enforcement mechanisms and social programs to make sure children don’t miss.)
Have you ever been told ‘we would NEVER adopt the national science standards’? I have; numerous times from many elected officials.
I started to push back against the Common Core reforms in early 2012. We warned this wasn’t simply about a set of standards. We warned there is more coming down the pipeline. The move to centralize and control education is moving at a rapid pace. We warned there were national science and social study standards waiting in the wings. We later warned there were national sex ed standards. We warned and warned and warned.
More often than not our pleas seem to fall on deaf ears….at least with decision makers.
In September of this year I was appointed to serve on the State science standards review committee.
The committee consists of 5 parents appointed by the Senate, 5 parents appointed by the House, and 7 subject experts appointed by the board chair. On paper that sounds like a measured and balanced approach.
The committee doesn’t have the feel of a parent committee, more like a who’s who in science committee with a couple of “regular” parents thrown in. Arguably, they are parents too, but that wasn’t the intent of the committee.
These committees can be manipulated to pick and choose who are the chosen few to have a real say in what is happening. The law already required parental input so I don’t feel the committee is necessary.
I know the state office was frustrated so many “anti-common core” parents were chosen and I’m concerned the USOE (UT State Office of Education) is manipulating the process.
First, they sent a list of parents they recommended as being chosen to the Senate and House. Isn’t that sweet?
Second, prior to the meeting I was sent a link to the current science standards with the assignment to thoroughly review the standards. I knew that the state office had already started working on new standards so why spend so much time looking at standards that are already on their way out.
Third, prior to the meeting we were also sent a pro-common core propaganda piece to help prepare for my meeting. That really bugged.
Fourth, upon arrival at the meeting we were assigned seats. I’ll never know for certain if our names were carefully arranged or not but it did seem to be that the “parents” were surrounded by “experts”. I just happened be to sitting by the lead writer of the national science standards.
Fifth, two members of the “writing” committee were also on the “review” committee. Does that even make sense?
Sixth, a good portion of the beginning of our meeting was devoted to explaining the purpose of the meeting and they made it clear the meeting was definitely NOT to talk about Common Core. Do they realize the entire reason the committee exists is BECAUSE of Common Core?
Seventh, we were strongly encouraged not to speak to each other outside of the meeting in smaller groups and to only communicate with the entire committee because this was a “collective” effort.
Eighth, we were repeatedly encouraged NOT to blog about the meeting because that would just be awkward at our next meeting…oops.
In all seriousness, I planned on following their request because everyone was really nice and I enjoyed the conversations I had with committee members but the more I thought about the meeting and how manipulated it was the more resolve I felt to let people know.
Ninth, we spent over an hour going over the current, intended to be thrown out, standards.
At 11 AM, one hour to the close of our meeting, we finally received the draft standards and broke up into committees to discuss. That does not leave enough time to look much at content. The staff was going to close comments at the end of our meeting but I cited the law and asked that we have more time to submit feedback.
******Sorry for the bitter tone, everyone was very nice BUT I did feel manipulated and that bothered me.******
Now on to the standards….
The proposed standards are…….dun, dun, dun….
IDENTICAL to the Next Generation Science Standards! (NGSS) Is anyone surprised? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
I went to the meeting expecting to see this.
I would give you proof with a side by side comparison but in order to be able to leave the meeting with the draft copies, I had to sign a non-disclosure statement that I wouldn’t make any digital copies. Lucky for you they’re publicly available online for your perusal and enjoyment.
Feel free to download a copy here: http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards
Currently, UT is only changing our 6-8th grade standards so look at Middle School Standards.
The “writing” committee carefully reformatted each page and only put one standard on a page instead of multiple.
Each page contain the same few basic elements.
- The standard or Performance Expectation
- Clarification Statement
- Assessment Boundary
- Cross cutting Framework
Here is an example of one page from the NGSS:
Now let’s take a closer look:
The red arrow points to the standard’s identity and the green box outlines exactly what the standard or performance expectation is.
The green box is outlining the clarification statement.
The Assessment Boundaries are now outlined in green.
Below is a portion framework developed by the National Research Council.
The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have developed “Common Core State Standards” in mathematics and language arts, and 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted these standards as of early 2011. The anticipation of a similar effort for science standards was a prime motivator for this NRC study and the resulting framework described in this report.
To maintain the momentum, the Carnegie Corporation commissioned the nonpartisan and nonprofit educational reform organization Achieve, Inc., to lead states in developing new science standards based on the NRC framework in this report. There is no prior commitment from multiple states to adopt such standards, so the process will be different from the Common Core process used for mathematics and language arts. But it is expected that Achieve will form partnerships with a number of states in undertaking this work and will offer multiple opportunities for public comment.
Sound familiar? Same players, same tune…
Underneath the colorful framework boxes is listed the Common Core standards that go along with each standard.
There were some changes made in the proposed draft and I’ll list them out generally here and will be able to get more specific at a later date.
- UT added a Root question to help arrange the standards by topic
- THE STANDARDS or PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS ARE IDENTICAL
- Clarification Statements- the majority are the same but the writing team did add to, delete (minimal), re-order and rephrase
- Assessment Boundaries – some changes but very little
- Framework – IDENTICAL
The important part is that the standards are 99.9 % the same with the exception of one word that was left out. I’ve been communicating with the State Board of Ed and it doesn’t appear that any board member knew the national standards were being used. Most seemed to think we were updating our old standards.
The Next Generation Science Standards were scored a C by the Fordham institute.
Fordham said that the current UT standards were clearly superior to the NGSS. In fact there are 14 states with clearly superior standards. If this were truly about raising achievement, those state standards would be our guide not sub-par standards with a very clear political bent.
Here’s the full review:
In fact, Utah’s current standards are rated higher than NGSS. Why are we intent on lowering our standards?
Citizens in Kansas are currently suing their state board of ed. From their website:
The Complaint alleges that the implementation of NGSS “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview,” in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Start researching now and be prepared to comment during the 90 day public comment period.
Public comment begins in December but there is no reason we can’t urge the state board to throw these out and start over. Elections are next week, find out where the candidates stand on the Next Generation Science Standards. Call, text, write and plead with the current state board to go back to the drawing board. Utah students deserve better.
Orem High School Principal Mike Browning sent this email out to faculty on Tuesday, which looks very appropriate.
From: Mike Browning_ohs <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 3:31 PM
Subject: Politics and Public Education
To: OHSFaculty <email@example.com>
Just a quick reminder that as we enter the election window, ASD employees are encouraged to study the issues and involve themselves in the political process. Since questions occasionally arise regarding appropriate political involvement by school employees, the following reminders may be helpful:
- Engaging in political activities during contract time or at school functions by district employees or school parent councils is not appropriate.
- Employees may engage in political activity as private citizens as long as the activity does not involve the use of public funds (equipment, Internet connections, and supplies).
- Political information should not be displayed or distributed via schools.
Great work on a successful first term of the school year! Have a good week,
The problem is, Mr. Browning is a hypocrite.
I spoke with a teacher last night who informs me that at the faculty meeting at the beginning of October, Mr. Browning told the faculty that he is very involved in politics and that he had a meet the candidate event at his home and one of the candidates is critical in some regard to some issues in Alpine School District (it was unclear if Chris Jolley had actually been invited to this event). He then pulled out a card (pictured at the left) and proceeded to say how great the Alpine School District is and what it gives to the communities.
This teacher explained to me, “Mr. Browning said, here we have PLCs, collaboration, and such, and encouraged us to have the cards in our wallet and when people were critical of the Alpine School District show them that we support the district and what it does for us and for our communities. While Mr. Browning’s speech wasn’t “technically” a political speech his words were almost, exactly the same as what was said by Mr. Conley in his now infamous very political email sent to his faculty. It is very evident that both of these principals got their information from the same sources, mainly the administrators in the district. I came away from that faculty meeting knowing full well where Alpine District’s wants were concerning this upcoming election. It’s very evident that the district is on a public relations push to show just how much good the district is doing and that major changes are not needed. This is a way, non-political of course, to show where they stand concerning the upcoming elections. The cards, the words to the principals, which are trickling down to the teachers, all show that the district administration is very concerned about the possible change of direction if John Burton and JoDee Sundberg are voted out.”
Here’s some more information that came out after yesterday’s post. It appears current Board President and former long time Alpine School District administrator John Burton may have his own set of problems to deal with. Rick Armknecht posted this in the comments section.
Sadly, the emails shown here may include violations of law on the part of a great many public servants.
Look at the “To” section of the principal’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, John.Burton@UVU.edu, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
ALL of these recipients were put on notice of the principal’s illegal campaigning as of last Friday (the 24th) morning (assuming that they read their emails every 2 hours or so during work hours). What did they do about it? Looks like one became a “whistle blower.” But what about the others? IF they read the email sent to them and IF they knew (or reasonably SHOULD HAVE KNOWN) about the illegality of the email AND if their position would imply that they DO something to stop the illegal conduct but they failed to take any action (yes, I know — a string of “ifs” there), then there is a violation of Utah law:
- 76-8-101. Definitions
For the purposes of this chapter:
. . .
(5) (a) “Public servant” means any officer or employee of the state or any political subdivision of the state, including judges, legislators, consultants, and persons otherwise performing a governmental function.
- 76-8-201. Official misconduct – Unauthorized acts or failure of duty A public servant is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if, with an intent to benefit himself or another or to harm another, he knowingly commits an unauthorized act which purports to be an act of his office, or knowingly refrains from performing a duty imposed on him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office.
So: What did John Burton know and when did he know it?
It seems to me that ASD has a pattern of doing what they want without any fear of repercussion. The ends (them maintaining power at all costs) justifies the means (violations of ethics and the law, particularly in the case of Ms. Sundberg and Principal Conley). Will there be enforcement of the law? It’s doubtful unless people rise up and say the law matters.
If Mr. Burton is OK with knowing this is going on under his watch as a publicly elected school board member and having been a long time administrator at ASD, he should resign his position and withdraw from the ballot. Nobody knows election ethics more than school administrators and the fact that this is knowingly allowed and even encouraged by inaction is a big problem.
State School Board Candidate Joel Wright in District 9 posted these shocking screenshots to Facebook exposing a pretty clear cut case of unethical engagement by ASD board member JoDee Sundberg and a principal who in turn appears to have violated election laws to support JoDee’s campaign.
What you can read below is a textbook case of how the entrenched establishment works. They elect someone like JoDee Sundberg or John Burton who do anything the district asks of them, and then to get re-elected, turn to the establishment to protect them. They are a massive political party that citizens have an extremely difficult time defeating. What you are about to read is yet another major reason for partisan school board elections in Utah so that citizens have an opportunity to run for school board and be vetted by a smaller number of elected delegates who can dig into a candidate and ignore the sound bites and get to the heart of issues.
Read the fear that fills these emails. They are in full panic mode. The game plan never changes…total fearmongering against those who think independently and challenge the status quo. Look at the nonsense that Wendy Hart’s opponent has published about her, causing Wendy to write a full rebuttal (particularly troubling after she had the nerve to walk out before the debate last week).
Start with JoDee Sundberg’s letter below as she pleads for help to school employees on their school email accounts, endangering numerous ASD employees and unethically asking them to engage their subordinates. Then Principal Keith Conley responds trying to rally the troops using his school email account and engages in extreme statements and instructs his subordinates how to vote. No facts, just fear. The sky is falling if they don’t retain their power.
State law prohibits the activities of the principal. ASD’s policies have also been violated and both JoDee Sundberg (16 years on the board – can’t feign ignorance) and Principal Conley know it.
From ASD’s own policy manual:
Rules and Regulations No. 4100 (http://policy.alpinedistrict.org/policy/4100_Internet-Wide_Area_Network_Acceptable_Use_Rule)
“1.1.3 Internet services provided by the school district are not intended for personal, political or private use. Employees have no expectation of privacy associated with the use of the Internet.”
“1.2.1 While on paid leave, certified employees may not engage in political activity including:
126.96.36.199 Actively campaigning for candidates for public office in partisan and nonpartisan elections.
188.8.131.52 Fundraising for political organizations, political parties, or candidates.”
What’s the punishment for doing so when not on leave?
Take Action – Read below and then call/write
1) Now please call the Lt. Governor’s office since Lt. Gov. Cox is in charge of elections violations. If he fails to take immediate action and waits till after the election, it will embolden the establishment that they are a law unto themselves and can get away with anything. They already have this attitude. This seems like a pretty clear violation of the law and involves a superior pressuring subordinates to take action, and using public taxpayer equipment and resources to campaign for a specific candidate.
Call Lt. Gov. Cox at: 800-995-VOTE
Write him at: http://www.utah.gov/ltgovernor/contact/
2) Then call Governor Herbert and make sure he steps up and enforces the law. The Governor cannot simply brush this off. Tell him to support partisan elections. His office can be reached at 801-538-1000.
3) Finally, if you’re able, attend Alpine School District’s board meeting Tuesday night at Westfield Elementary (380 S. Long Drive, Alpine, Utah) at 6:00 PM. You must sign up prior to the meeting starting to make public comment so be a few minutes early if you’d like to ask how ASD handles infractions of their policies particularly when a school board member and principal are involved.
Here’s the stunning exchange. Summary follows:
What do you think? Is JoDee’s email ethical? Would you vote for her? Here’s a quick bullet list of a sitting board member communicating with ASD principals whose livelihood can be affected by board decisions.
- I need your teachers’ help
- I need them to walk neighborhoods and campaign for me
- They need to share a message about how wonderful the schools are because of my efforts because my opponent will destroy it all if he’s elected
- Also I need our other service personnel and administrators to help
- If our teachers won’t help, I NEED TO KNOW and my campaign is sunk
- My opponent will dismantle ASD because he’s an extremist while I am completely objective and normal
- I am visiting SCHOOL COMMUNITY COUNCILS (another election law violation for SCC’s that don’t give equal time to all opponents)
- I need the teachers to vote and take 5 people with them
- I know I’m begging you but I need your help
- I need your money and John Burton needs your money
- After a meeting where Wendy Hart had the nerve to bring up state laws she’d researched about clubs engaged in sexual topics, we barely passed the motion to support the gay/straight alliance club, and if I’m not re-elected things will get much worse
No summary of Principal Conley’s letter is needed. Unfortunately, this principal has crossed the line.
Please everyone, get out the vote for Maynard Olsen in Orem, Wendy Hart in Alpine, Highland, and Cedar Hills, and Chris Jolly in American Fork.
Here are a few recent articles that have come out which everyone should read, particularly visitors from the state office of education that visit this site. I have to believe some of you are alert to these issues and I find it completely disingenuous that the public line from USOE is to continue to portray our Common Core issues as “it’s just about the standards.” It’s minimally about the standards, like maybe 10%. Most of the issues are related to the baggage that came with the Common Core reforms and the nationalizing of education under a corporate network.
Joy Pullman’s top 10 things parents hate about Common Core
A most excellent summary of the real issues and not one of them is about the standards.
Remarkable Idiocy: “Economically-driven Education”
Mercedes Schneider’s article rings home. This article serves to expose the not-well-understood truth that education has become fascist. It exists to serve big business and is driven and controlled by them.
Reframing the Common Core discussion: A battle for our freedom
This article by Laurie Rogers is a little similar to the first but also a must read for the differing content.
“If I were to build a list of the worst systemic problems in public education, the Common Core State Standards would not be at the top of the list. The Common Core (CCSS) is a huge problem, to be sure. It’s dictatorial, inadequate, experimental, expensive, developmentally inappropriate, politically infused – it’s nearly everything critics have said it is. But it isn’t the worst problem we face.
That dishonor goes to The Network, a moniker I’ve given to the conglomeration of corporate and government interests (and their allies) that have seized control of America’s classrooms.”
Supporting Alternatives to Common Core
“Nothing short of a radical break from the political educational machine, will bring back valid education.” Vote with your shoes.
If you want to know what *real* school board members do, check this out. There was discussion at the August 12th school board meeting in Alpine regarding AIR, the company Utah contracted with to provide the SAGE exam. You can listen to the audio at this link.
Click at the bottom on Additional media, and go to 52 minutes on the Board Meeting audio.
That discussion prompted Dr. Judy Park at the Utah State Office of Education to write a letter to Superintendent Henshaw in ASD. This letter was sent to Dr. Park by three of the board members in ASD (and it’s shameful that the other 4 don’t understand their role as public watchdogs enough to have signed on as well). Read this and then covet our board members… :)
September 18, 2014
Dr. Judy Park
Utah State Office of Education
Dear Dr. Park,
Thank you for taking the time to address some of the issues with AIR and SAGE testing. We especially appreciate your citations of the contract. In the interest of openness and transparency, we have a point of clarification, as well as some follow-up questions.
To begin, a point of clarification. Your letter is directed to Superintendent Henshaw who communicated some of our concerns about SAGE and AIR to you. In your letter, you indicate that “False, undocumented and baseless allegations need to cease.” We wish to clarify that the concerns expressed by Dr. Henshaw were not coming from him, and, as such, your directive would not be to him but to those of us on the board and our constituents who are raising questions, based on our reading of the AIR contract with USOE. Because Dr. Henshaw reports to the Alpine School Board and not the other way around, any directive for Dr. Henshaw to rein in these ‘allegations’ from board members or constituents would be inappropriate. We can appreciate that you are troubled by this, but we would recommend that more information and more discussion would be a preferable way of resolving concerns, as opposed to suggesting that concerned representatives and their constituents simply remain silent.
So, in that spirit of openness, we have the following clarifications and follow-up questions.
We begin by addressing the sections of the AIR contract cited in your letter of August 14. It was very much appreciated because these are the same sections of the contract that we have studied. We were hopeful that there would be additional insight. Unfortunately, we did not find any assurance in the pages listed.
I-96 – I-98: This section nicely addresses the physical, network, and software security for the server and test items. However, the only reference to AIR employees, their ability to access or use any data is left to “Utah’s public records laws, FERPA, and other federal laws.” FERPA, as many know, has been modified by the US Dept of Education to allow for the sharing of data without parental knowledge or consent as long as it can be justified as an ‘educational program’. Additionally, FERPA only contains penalties for those entities receiving federal funds. Since Utah is paying directly for SAGE testing, FERPA is a meaningless law in this regard. Additionally, Utah’s public records laws appear to only address the openness of public records, but are insufficient when it comes to privacy or use of data, including that of a minor. If there are robust privacy laws in Utah’s public records laws, we would appreciate additional citations. Please cite the other federal laws that protect the privacy of our students.
I-61: Addresses the technical protocols for the data transfer, as well as encryption of passwords. Again, this doesn’t address those who are given access by AIR to the data for whatever purpose.
I-72 – I-73: Addresses the security of those contractors who will be manually scoring during the pilot testing. This addresses a particular third-party in a particular role, but not AIR as an entity or its employees, other than this particular instance.
I-85 – I-86: Addresses the issues of users and roles for the database and USOE updates. This limits the appropriate access to those of us in Utah, based on whether we are teachers, principals, board members, USOE, etc. Again, this does not address anything about AIR as an entity or its employees.
While all these security precautions are necessary, and we are grateful they are included, they do nothing to address the particular issues that were raised at the August 12, 2014 Alpine School Board Meeting. Some of our concerns are as follows:
1) Prior to the Addendum from March 2014 (for which we are grateful) there was no prohibition on sharing data with a third-party. As indicated, the changes to FERPA would allow AIR to legally share data with a third-party as long as that sharing was for ‘an educational program’ without parental knowledge or consent. As such, the addendum now allows for that sharing only with the USOE’s consent. We are still concerned that parents are not asked to give consent and may not have knowledge of their student’s data being shared.
2) AIR itself is a research firm dedicated to conducting and applying the best behavioral and social science research and evaluation. As such, they are involved with data collection and evaluation. In the contract and addendum cited, there is nothing that prohibits how AIR or its subsidiary organizations may use, query, analyze or access any or all student data from the SAGE tests in Utah. They would have access to many data sets from many entities. They also would have multiple on-going research projects. There is no prohibition on what inquiries, research or analysis can be done on the data from SAGE testing. As long as AIR does not profit from the data or share with a third-party without the USOE’s consent, the data is managed by AIR and available for access. What are the methods in place to prevent AIR from accessing the data for additional research or analysis? AIR does not need to share the data with a third-party to violate the privacy of a student or a set of students. However, since they control and manage the database, there is nothing that would prevent this access.
3) There are no prohibitions in the contract regarding behavioral data. While we realize Mr. Cohen has said the contract does not call for gathering or evaluating behavioral data, and that AIR is not inclined to do so, there are, again, no prohibitions or penalties associated with gathering or evaluating behavioral data. State law allows for the use of behavioral data in the year-end testing. So, there are no legal prohibitions on the use or collection of behavioral data. Since behavioral research is the primary mission of AIR, as indicated by its mission statement, it is a concern for parents. If AIR has no desire to collect behavioral data as part of the SAGE testing, it should state so explicitly in a legally-binding manner.
4) Many parents have, legally, opted out of SAGE testing for their students. As such, why is AIR receiving any information on these students? Parents feel it is a grave violation of their trust by USOE that any data the USOE has received from the schools can be input into the SAGE database, not to mention the State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS). There must, at a minimum, be a way for parents to opt out of all sharing of their student’s data with AIR and the SLDS. At what point, if any, will student data be purged from the AIR database? What is the method for demonstrating the data has been properly purged?
Additionally, we appreciate the response of Mr. Cohen to our concerns. Based on his response, we have the following questions.
1) Please list the “express purposes” for which the release, sharing or sale of data is not prohibited, per contract.
2) What third parties are AIR “explicitly permitted by the State of Utah” to provide data to?
3) What research has AIR been requested and directed by the Utah State Office of Education to conduct?
4) What entity (or entities) has AIR been authorized by the State of Utah to release data to?
5) Please list the source of the contract that states that AIR is prohibited from releasing data to the federal government.
6) What entity (or entities) have been designated by the USOE to receive data from AIR?
7) The memo does not address companies owned or operated by AIR, which would not be considered third-parties. Please state, per contract, where AIR does not share data within related party entities.
Finally, we have the following questions related to the validity and reliability of the SAGE testing. We understand that this information would not be protected by copyright, and therefore, could be provided to us, as elected officials.
1. Normative Sample Details (who took the test)
2. Coefficient Alpha Reliability
3. Content description Validity
4. Differential Item Function Analysis
5. Criterion Prediction Validity
6. Construct Identification Validity
7. Other types of validity scales/constructs that are applicable only to CAT test designs
We appreciate the opportunity to discuss this more in the future. As those who are responsible to the parents of this district, we feel it is imperative that our concerns are addressed. And, when all is said and done, it is most important that parents have the opportunity to protect whatever student information they feel is necessary. Just because parents decide to educate their children in our public school system does not mean that we, as a state government, are entitled to whatever information about their children we feel in necessary. Parents are still, by state law, primarily responsible for the education and the upbringing of their children. As such, their wishes and their need to protect information on their students is paramount. As members of the Alpine School Board, we must represent the different views and concerns of all the parents in our area. For those who have no concerns, then you may proceed as usual. For those who do have concerns, it is incumbent on us to raise these questions and to obtain the most accurate information possible.
Thank you for your time, and we look forward to more information in the future.
Brian Halladay, ASD4
Wendy Hart, ASD2
Paula Hill, ASD1