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Looby calls for probe over ISAT scores leak
From: Erica Absetz <eabsetz () opensecurityfoundation org>
Date: Tue, 19 Mar 2013 15:19:14 -0400

http://www.sj-r.com/carousel/x1037524110/Lobby-calls-for-probe-over-ISAT-leak

The Springfield School District might have violated state and federal
student privacy laws by publicly releasing standardized test scores of
individual students without parental consent.

School Board vice president Bill Looby said he plans to call for an
outside investigation at tonight’s board meeting.

The leaked report included reading and math scores from the Illinois
Standard Achievement Test for eighth-graders at the Capital College
Preparatory Academy, identified by name. The scores were from exams
taken during the students’ third- through seventh-grade years and
included scores from students who have transferred from the academy
since sixth grade.

Release of the data with identifying information without permission is
banned by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and
the Illinois School Student Records Act.

Looby called the release of the students’ names and scores “appalling”
and “unfathomable,” and a letter sent to CCPA parents Friday said
releasing the information was “an inexcusable violation of privacy.”

The school district is investigating how the release happened and who
might have been the source of the information. School Superintendent
Walter Milton, whose last day is March 31, said the district will seek
help from federal and state law enforcement for the investigation.

The State Journal-Register received a redacted copy of the report from
a member of the public who was given the report but does not work for
the district or an educational agency.

The original leaked report contained student names and indicated
whether they had attended the prep academy all three years of middle
school.

The board has voted twice to close the CCPA. People who support
keeping the school open have suggested that relatively high test
scores achieved by academy students demonstrate the CCPA is effective.
The data implied students at the prep academy were generally scoring
well on standardized tests before entering the school.

“We are trying to get to the bottom of it,” Milton said of the release
of the scores. “You cannot send kids’ scores out there. This is very
serious. This is pretty egregious.”

The SJ-R received the redacted report March 4, the day before the
board was set to take a second vote on the closure of the prep
academy. The newspaper last week asked the Illinois State Board of
Education whether laws were broken by release of the non-redacted
version of the report to a member of the public.

“The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the
Illinois School Students Records Act both put limitations on what
specific student information can be released to the public without
expressed permission from the parent and/or guardian,” said Sangamon
County Regional School Superintendent Jeff Vose, acting on behalf of
the ISBE. “It would be concerning if information was released without
consent.”

The scores were released amid much debate over the prep academy’s
future, savings from closing the school and the school’s academic
success. The school’s future has become one of the top questions in
the April 9 school board election.

Looby said an outside investigation is necessary.

“We have to find out how it happened and who was involved — it’s
appalling,” said Looby. “These are District 186 families, and this is
a betrayal at the highest echelons. It’s almost unfathomable.”

‘Do what’s right’

On Friday, prep academy parents were sent a letter alerting them to
the breach of privacy.

“We apologize for this inexcusable invasion of privacy and will take
appropriate measures to assure that it does not happen again,” said
the letter signed by Milton.

“This, to me, is another example of this overzealousness of trying to
downgrade what was being done at CCPA,” said CCPA parent teacher
organization president Bob Ogden, whose daughter is in eighth grade at
the school. “If the intent was to actually do harm to what these kids
have done, then that’s just not right.”

District spokesman Pete Sherman said it remains unclear how many
district employees have access to such data or why the data was
released.

Board president Susan White sent Milton an unsigned parent request on
Feb. 27 for the same academic data in the same color-coded spreadsheet
format as the leaked report, though noted not to include names,
according to an email obtained by the SJ-R.

The parent also asked for a similar spreadsheet of ISAT data for CCPA
students graduating from the academy this year who started after the
beginning of the sixth-grade year, and for students who began their
sixth-grade year at the academy but transferred. The parent also
wanted to know the dates they transferred to or from the academy.

The report the SJ-R obtained also included information about current
eighth-graders who have transferred from the academy.

On March 5, White was sent a report with the requested information
compiled by CCPA principal Chris Colgren, that did not include names,
according to Milton’s assistant Nicole Irlam. Irlam said Looby and
board member Scott McFarland also were sent the report.

Irlam said board members have requested similar information in the
past few weeks, including scores for a middle school exam that
predicts college readiness.

Colgren’s report of eighth-grade scores confirmed most of the scores
in the leaked report as district data. Sets of 20 students’ scores
appeared on Colgren’s analysis, but not in the leaked report.

White said early last week she did not know what was contained in the
report that the SJ-R obtained.

“I haven’t seen it,” White said. “And I don’t know who put that together.”

Milton said he suspected obtaining the data was an effort to support
closure of the CCPA.

“Everything is all about these different sides, these different
factions, and the foolishness really needs to stop,” Milton said.
“Trying to prove, or trying disprove one side against the other … my
hope is people would really get on the same page and do what’s right
for children.”

Milton said the district would need help in its investigation from the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Illinois State Police or Sangamon
County State’s Attorney John Milhiser’s office.

“When you break those federal and state laws, it turns into a legal
situation,” Milton said.

Molly Beck can be reached at 788-1526. Follow her at twitter.com/MollyBeckSJR.
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