Common Core Bill Could Cause Data Problems for Schools

Mar 3, 2014

The state Senate passed a bill last week setting up a review of the Common Core education standards. The same bill also places heavy restrictions on how officials can use student data. That has some educators concerned about what will happen to a statewide longitudinal data system.

Senate Bill 167 restricts the collection and use of students’ personal data. Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) is the bill’s primary sponsor. During a Senate committee hearing, Ligon said protecting student data is a key component of the legislation.

“[In the bill] We make it clear that no student or family information is to be collected by a state agency, local district, or education institution that is not directly related to the educational needs of the student,” he said.

That could create some problems with the Georgia Department of Education’s longitudinal data system. The electronic system aggregates student data, such as test scores and attendance records, to help teachers plan instruction. The bill's language is restrictive,  leaving questions about how much access teachers would have to students' information. 

A Senate bill aimed to modify the Common Core education standards could cause problems for teachers using a statewide data system. Note: All data shown are from a dummy account.
Credit Martha Dalton/WABE News

Dr. Dana Rickman is the director of policy and research at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. She says the bill’s language indicates there’s some confusion over what data the state can collect.

“What’s interesting to me is a lot of this stuff that was specifically listed in the bill that we would not be allowed to collect, like blood volume, heart rates, or if there’s gun ownership in the home, things like that,” she says. “That’s not currently being collected anyway and there are no plans to collect it.”

Education officials were able to build out the data system as part of a federal Race to the Top grant. To apply, Georgia had to adopt the Common Core standards.

Some are unhappy with the federal government’s involvement. A handful of lawmakers, like Ligon, are concerned involvement in the Common Core requires collecting students personally identifiable data. But supporters of the standards point out there’s no federal mandate to collect such information. Michael Petrilli is the executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. He addressed the issue at a Common Core forum in Atlanta in November.

“I’ve got two little kids, one now in Kindergarten,”Petrilli said. “I don’t want his data going to the federal government or to private companies or anybody else. But, there’s nothing about the Common Core that leads to greater data collection.”

Rickman, of the GPEE, says Georgia may be better off doing what some other states have done. That is, developing a bill that establishes data privacy officers and encryption systems to protect information instead of severely restricting access to student data.