When a Nevada father of four tried to get the state education board to turn over years of data collected on his children, he was told it would cost thousands of dollars.

A whopping $10,914 to be exact.

John Eppolito, a former math teacher turned education advocate, is concerned about the data gathered on his children and whether it is accurate. He doesn’t think Nevada — or other states — should collect educational data on students without prior parental consent.

“We’re opening the flood gates; we don’t know the implications or how this data will follow these children — and most parents don’t know anything about it,” Eppolito said.
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When he heard that Nevada is planning to share the data with other states as part of a larger consortium, he began his hunt for the information; nearly 400 to 800 data points that could be tracked on individual students, depending on the state. He first called the local school district, but when those officials said they “weren’t sure who got the data” he tried calling the Nevada State Education Board.

That’s when Judy Osgood, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Education, told Eppolito it would cost thousands of dollars to deliver the data. According to Fox News, the costs topped $10,000 because the education board would have to write a program to extrapolate the data on individual kids.

“Because the SAIN system is not designed to create reports that display individual student data in a readable format, the parent was initially told that the requested reports do not exist and cannot be produced,” the Nevada education department document reads.

“Upon continued insistence from the parent, [Nevada Department of Education] staff assessed how much programming time would be required to write new queries and develop a data table to create readable reports for the parent. Staff determined that it would take at least 3 weeks (120 hours) of dedicated programming time to fulfill the parent’s request. At the applicable wage rate of $84.95/hour, the requested work resulted in a $10,194 price tag.”

But the Data Quality Campaign — a non-profit that works with states to ensure data gathered is actually used for educational improvement — disagrees. They report all 52 states have implemented “a unique statewide student identifier that connects student data across key databases across years (a single, non-duplicated number assigned to an individual student that remains with that student from kindergarten through high school).”

The DQC also argues each state should be working harder to ensure parents have easy access to any information collected on their children, so they can lead the efforts in helping their children graduate.

“States and school districts must redouble their efforts to make sure that those who are working with information are very clear about the rights that parents have and are complying with those laws,” Dakarai I. Aarons, Communications and External Affairs director for the Data Quality Campaign, said.

The Federal law that protects parents right to access data is the same one that allows schools to track the students to begin with; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) says parents can see the data gathered on their children and small fees are allowed to be issued for records, unless they — in any way — prevent the parents from obtaining them.

But Aarons said there is also a need for going beyond merely complying with the law and making an attempt at “good customer service,” on behalf of the education boards.

“States and districts need to train their staff … we’re leaving compliance behind and thinking about customer service, which is a bit of a new role, unfortunately, for many of our government agencies in this country,” he said.

Currently, only 14 states claim to have “easily accessible” data for parents so they can retrieve the information the state has gathered about their children, and just ten of those said they are creating databases that are customized to a student’s “individual learning path.”

states records

The Data Quality Campaign said only 14 states claim to have “easily accessible” data for parents (Image Source: Data Quality Campaign).

“I want to see what data is out there about my kids … and I don’t think Nevada should be sharing this information with the Smarter Balanced assessment consortium,” Eppolito said.

Smarter Balanced is “a state-led consortium working collaboratively to develop next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards that accurately measure student progress toward college and career readiness,” according to the organization’s website.

So why is the data shared to begin with? Aarons said tracking some data points, such as when a student has had a number of absences has assisted teachers with helping students who may be getting off track. 

The Nevada State Education department did not immediately respond to TheBlaze’s request for comment; Eppolito plans to reengage with the department on the grounds that he has legal authority to access the individual student data.

UPDATE:

Eppolito joined TheBlaze TV’s “Wilkow” for his first television interview on Wednesday. Watch it below:

(H/T: Fox News)

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter. 

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