OPINION: Student data has value

December 5, 2013 From Albany Times-Union
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In the latest controversy seeming to arise from the state’s implementation of the Common Core Standards, some parents, educators and politicians are questioning the state’s affiliation with an Atlanta-based nonprofit that is collecting and organizing a lot of data on public and charter school students across the state.

Legitimate issues are being raised about InBloom, which recently drew the ire of some lawmakers after it declined to send a representative to an Assembly Education Committee hearing about the data-gathering effort. The data the state is providing InBloom includes student test scores, attendance records, discipline history, health and ethnicity.

New York was one of nine states to originally sign on with InBloom, and now is one of only three states participating in an effort to standardize educational data and offer educators ways to evaluate what is working and what isn’t in our nation’s classrooms.

Many states and school districts, usually wealthier ones, already collect this type information on student background and performance. But broad analysis is impossible because the data is in various formats and cannot be easily and securely shared.

InBloom’s solution is to gather the data, standardize the format and add high-level encryption to protect identities and personal information, then store it in a “cloud” so it can be accessed, compared and analyzed.

InBloom says its tools will allow teachers to track students’ progress and see what has worked elsewhere. States and local school districts could know better where to target their limited resources. Eventually, lessons could even be customized to an individual student’s needs.

InBloom is supported by some pretty respected and influential backers, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided $100 million in seed money, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It is seen as a way to leverage modern technology to help solve our challenges in education.

The value of comparing and analyzing this data is enormous, but the fears of the data being compromised are important, too. We have seen too many examples of personal information being accidentally leaked or hacked. In the wrong hands, it could end up hurting our students and our schools.

So both InBloom and the state must demonstrate their commitment to providing security that can protect this data from improper disclosure.

But to not gather this data and tap its potential would recklessly tie educators’ hands even as the public demands they do better in educating children.

Nor should we confuse issues: Gathering relevant data and analyzing it is separate from the controversial new Common Core Standards and from high-stakes testing. The better educators understand where students are, they more able schools will be to lead students where they need to go.

–The Albany Times Union, courtesy of the Associated Press

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