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*** UPDATED x1 *** Legislators want AG to investigate standardized test maker over data sales

Thursday, Oct 10, 2019

* I’ve asked the attorney general’s office for a response. I’ll let you know if they say anything. From an Illinois Families for Public Schools press release…

Ahead of next week’s administration of the PSAT exam in schools around the state, nine Illinois state legislators are asking Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to investigate the business practices of a major state vendor, the College Board, the standardized test maker that sells the SAT, PSAT and Advanced Placement exams.

The lawmakers sent a letter to AG Raoul Thursday, October 10th signed by: Senators Cristina Castro, Robert Martwick, Laura Murphy and Robert Peters and Representatives Robyn Gabel, Will Guzzardi, Lindsey LaPointe, Aarón Ortíz and Ann Williams.

The letter explains that the College Board has been selling data collected from Illinois public school students who take the College Board’s exams and that such sales are illegal under Illinois law.

Since 2017, Illinois has prohibited vendors from selling or renting the personal information of students collected in schools under the Student Online Privacy Protection Act (SOPPA), an Illinois state law. In addition to violating SOPPA, in many cases the data sales may also be violating Illinois’ Children’s Privacy Protection and Parental Empowerment Act, which bars the sale of data of a child under 16 without parental consent.

The College Board’s data sales were reported on last year by the New York Times, and the US Department of Education has warned school districts and state education agencies about the issues surrounding these sales. At an IL Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this spring, a representative of the College Board, Todd Iverson, confirmed that the College Board is selling Illinois’ student data—at the time for $.45 per student record.

This summer, Illinois Families for Public Schools, a public school parent advocacy group, began assisting parents with submitting consumer fraud complaints to the Attorney General’s office. Parents and students are not informed of the College Board’s data sales, and in some cases are explicitly told that the College Board does not sell data. Parents are asking for the AG to bar the College Board from future sales of Illinois student data and to prevent the College Board from collecting or redisclosing student data without written, informed consent from a parent for any student under 18.

“My child was told that participating in the College Board’s Student Search Service survey was for his benefit. Neither of us knew the answers he provided were for sale. As a parent, I have the responsibility and the right to control what happens to my child’s personal data. And as a taxpayer, I don’t understand why the College Board needs to make money off this data. Aren’t they already being paid for the tests themselves?,” asked Chicago parent Gina Silva, who filed a complaint about the data sales with the IL AG.

The College Board does millions of dollars of business every year in Illinois with state and local governments. They currently have a $29 million contract with the IL State Board of Education for the SAT and PSAT tests. Last year the state paid more than $2 million to cover the fees for the AP tests for low-income students. The state’s largest school district, Chicago Public Schools, has an $8.35 million contract with the College Board. In addition, Illinois public institutions of higher education are some of the buyers of the data from the College Board.

Since spring of 2018, the IL State Board of Education has mandated the administration of the SAT to all high school juniors to fulfill requirements of federal school accountability law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The SAT is now a requirement to receive a diploma from a public high school in Illinois. This year the state will begin mandating the PSAT in 9th and 10th grade. Many schools administer the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of 11th grade as well. The College Board’s Advanced Placement tests also now play a role in Illinois’ school rating system.

* I followed up with a question about how many kids are taking these tests in Illinois…

Hi Rich,

In 2018, about 140K students took the SAT in public schools. (The numbers from 2019 will be released at the end of the month but enrollment should be similar.)

In spring 2020, there will be a similar number taking SAT plus another ~300K because the state is now requiring schools to administer a PSAT to 9th and 10th grade as well.

In addition, about 110K students took at least one AP test in 2018. (But, presumably almost all of them are already being counted in the above stats.)

In terms of how much the College Board is making from data sales though, the $.47 per record is, I think, only for the data from high school juniors. For younger children, they charge more—up to $5 per record. (This is according to representatives from some of the state’s public universities and colleges who said this at a College and Career Interest Task Force meeting last November.)

…Adding… From the Illinois Families for Public Schools…

Correction, looking back at my notes from that meeting—colleges/universities are paying up to $5/record for this data, but it’s not clear from what was said whether that was from College Board in particular or from another data broker. Here’s the College Board’s current price list.

*** UPDATE *** From the AG’s office…

We are aware of these concerns and are looking into this.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

7 Comments »
  1. - Just Observing - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 11:23 am:

    Somewhat related — I just read that a lot of colleges are moving away from requiring SAT/ACT scores:

    https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/record-number-of-colleges-stop-requiring-the-sat-and-act-amid-questions-of-fairness


  2. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 11:24 am:

    It’s no coincidence that the mailboxes of students are flooded with mail from colleges after taking these tests. Some of them from far flung places and schools even the parents have never heard of. While this practice may be beneficial for some families and annoying to others, it should be fully disclosed and properly consented to by either a student at or past majority or their parent or guardian.


  3. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 11:33 am:

    It turns out that the SAT and ACT are not even very good at what they claim to do! They are, maybe OK indicators of how a white, middle-upper class male will do in college. And that’s about it. And yet…everyone needs to take one.


  4. - Not a Billionaire - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 11:49 am:

    Rich kids with bad grades get tutored for these scams. They area contra indicator of success in some cases. Some require them because of the US news rankings. It was in NYT mag a few weeks ago. And a prediction a lot of colleges are in financial trouble.


  5. - JS Mill - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 12:49 pm:

    =This year the state will begin mandating the PSAT in 9th and 10th grade.=

    They were required to take it last spring.


  6. - Cassie Creswell, IL Families for Public Schools - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 1:21 pm:

    JS Mill,
    Yes, apologies, you are correct! That’s an error in the press release. (Spring 2018 was optional but the state would reimburse your district for PSAT in 9 and 10. Spring 2019 it was required.)


  7. - ArchPundit - Thursday, Oct 10, 19 @ 11:12 pm:

    —Rich kids with bad grades get tutored for these scams.

    The tutoring does very little to raise scores. The score increase, on average, is not significant. That said, I agree they are not that useful and see little reason to continue using them. The challenge for states is that they have built the scores from both AP/IB programs and SAT/ACT into accountability measures and they aren’t meant for that and aren’t good indicators of quality of instruction.


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