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More lawmakers call for SED to halt data-sharing plans

The State Education Department is facing increased pressure to curb its student data-sharing plans.

Last week, Republican Senator John Flanagan introduced a bill to address looming concerns around the plan’s data privacy and security. He also called for the state to halt the initiative, which is scheduled to begin next month, for at least a year.

Now, a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Speaker Sheldon Silver and  Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan, are raising their own red flags. Like Flanagan, they want the state to halt the plan, but they are also suggesting that they might not ever want to see it start up again.

The controversy is over an initiative funded in part by federal Race to the Top grants designed to help districts use information about an individual student’s personal and academic history to create more individualized lesson plans and inform a teacher’s instruction. Some data elements being collected include test scores, report card grades, information about special needs, attendance records and disciplinary records.

To help districts with the initiative, the state has partnered with an outside technology vendor called inBloom. The vendor’s database can be used by districts, especially small ones without a capacity to collect longitudinal data on their own, to contract with technology companies to help digitize learning.

But the plan has sparked concern from parents, district officials and lawmakers who have expressed doubt that data will be kept secure as it is passed back and forth between inBloom, districts and other third-party vendors. They have also raised questions about contracting with private vendors, some of which could be for-profit, to make data-driven decisions about teaching and learning.

“We do not believe the State EducationDepartment should share this information with InBloom, especially not at this time,” read a letter that Nolan and 49 other Assembly members have signed and sent to Commissioner John King.

New York State is the last state that is working with inBloom on the data initiative. Eight other states that were involved in the project have pulled out due to similar concerns.

Silver endorsed the letter, but isn’t among its signees. In a press release, Silver said it was the legislature’s job to protect “personally identifiable information from falling into the wrong hands.”

Until we are confident that this information can remain protected, the plan to share student data with InBloom must be put on hold,” he said in an emailed statement.

Paige Kowalski, director of state policy and advocacy for the Data Quality Campaign, a lobbying group that supports the data-sharing initiative, said she feared the push back in New York would feed a false narrative that using any data in schools was wrong.

“I don’t think anybody wants to move back to a time when we didn’t have credit cards or the internet,” Kowalski said.

The Data Quality Campaign has received funding from the Gates Foundation, which also funded the inBloom project.

Advocates who have fought the data plan praised the Assembly members and called for the state education department to comply with their concerns.  

“I hope the Commissioner and the Regents listen to the Speaker and our other elected officials, and pull out of inBloom immediately, as they have so far refused to do,” said Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson.  

The State Education Department did not respond to requests for comment.