What if you found out that your school district was performing psychological evaluations on your children and entering that information into a data-base in an effort to develop a psychological profile on your child?  What if you were not notified and were never asked to consent to this? What if this sensitive information was being shared with researchers outside the school district?

Would you be concerned about this information and the possibility of a data breach?  Would you be concerned that teachers, who are not trained and licensed Child Psychologists,will be subjectively doing this?  Would you be concerned about this information being used against your child at some future date?  Would you want to know how they would re-mediate your child if they determined your child didn’t have the correct attitudes and behaviors?

You wouldn’t be alone.  Parents across the country along with privacy advocates are raising a red flag in an attempt to warn parents what is going on in their public school. For instance, federal legislation has come under attack for allowing the psychological profiling of children with little regard for privacy concerns.

Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA) was introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and was noted for three main concerns:

1.) SETRA reauthorizes ESRA, the Education Sciences Reform Act, first passed in 2002, which facilitates intrusive data collection on students.

2.) SETRA allows for psychological profiling of our children, raising serious privacy concerns. S

3.) SETRA depends on FERPA to protect student privacy, legislation that is now outdated and has been gutted by regulation.

In New Hampshire, some schools are collecting this social and emotional data on your children without your knowledge or consent and sharing that sensitive data with Plymouth State University.  How are they getting away with this?  That’s a good question since there are privacy laws like HIPPA, FERPA and COPPA in place to protect the privacy of children.

Under the Obama administration, the FERPA law was gutted which now allows for “researchers” to access data on children. As you can see, gutting privacy protections that were put in place has opened up your child’s personal information to be accessed without your knowledge or consent. Your child’s personal information is a commodity now and if parents are not aware, their behaviors, attitudes and values can be shared or sold and you’d never know it. If legislators try to deny the ease of sharing information on your children, you can expect high-paid corporate tech lobbyists to swarm in and object.

Schools in New Hampshire are using the DESSA screening tool to gather subjective behavior and attitude data on your children.  A teacher recently confided in me that she is now grading her students with the DESSA tool, but does not want this kind of evaluation done on her children who also attend a public school.  It’s concerning that public school teachers now have to screen children using a psychological evaluation even when they are not trained in the field of child psychology.  This teacher did not know where the data went and who would have access to it once it was entered in a data-base.

I reported on how Marc Kirsch, a Sales Representative from the DESSA software company acknowledge that this screening tool was a psychological evaluation.  Companies in the past have used screenings for pseudoscience in an attempt to play child psychologist in the classroom or to find consumers who would purchase their medications or products to sell, in order to fix the problems that were diagnosed.

Plymouth State received a Grant from the Federal Government to collect this sensitive data on children and track it over time.  After filing a Right to Know Request, I was sent the following information on which schools in NH are participating in the Plymouth State Project.  Keep in mind that many schools are using the DESSA Screening tool but SOME are then sending the data to Plymouth State University’s: Cindy Waltman, Ph.D., NCSP, Associate Professor, School Psychology Program Coordinator.  Here is what Dr. Walman sent me per my 91-a Right to Know Request:

We are pleased to share with you the following information in response to the questions in your email from March 31, 2017.

  1. Below is the list of schools that are participating in this project:
    1. Bow Elementary School
    2. Franklin School District
      1. Paul Smith Elementary
      2. Franklin Middle School
      3. Franklin High School
    3. Hillsboro-Deering Elementary School
    4. Lisbon Regional School
    5. Plainfield Elementary School
    6. Winnisquam School District
      1. Sanbornton Central School
      2. Union Sanborn School
      3. Southwick School

She went on to answer questions about the Plymouth State Project:

  1. The purpose of this research is to learn if schools can have a positive impact on students’ social-emotional learning skills through early intervention.  
  2. Copies of the two grant applications are attached. 
  3. There was no official document sent to schools to request their participation. Communication was done verbally. 
  4. There are no contracts between the schools and Plymouth State University regarding this project. 
  5. Your item #6 is for a request for information and not records; for that reason, PSU has no records that are responsive.  Notwithstanding that, please know PSU is conducting this research in accord with the applicable federal laws regarding human subjects research. 
  6. The researchers adhere to the standards set forth by Plymouth State University’s Institutional Review Board, whose responsibilities are outlined in Title 45 Code of Federal Regulations Part 46. 
  7. The Codes of Ethics of the following professional associations guide our work on this project: The National Association of School Psychologists, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Educational Research Association, the American School Counseling Association, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association.  
  8. We are not using any other materials besides the DESSA to research social-emotional learning.

I also filed a Right To Know Request with SAU 35 to see if their Superintendent explained to parents that they would be conducting psychological evaluations on students and if they obtained written consent from parents. SAU 35 is part of the Plymouth State Project and here is what they have provided so far:

On Fri, Apr 14, 2017 at 11:49 AM, Pierre Couture <[email protected]> wrote:

Ann Marie, you will be getting a statement from Cindy Waltman from PSU regarding your request.  The attached email is the response I got from Lisbon.

Pierre Couture

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Laura Clark <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 1:02 PM
Subject: Fwd: request for information
To: Pierre Couture <[email protected]>
Cc: Jackie Daniels <[email protected]>, Emily Russell <[email protected]>

Pierre,

Did you see this email from Cindy Waltman? Jackie passed along your questions and we do not have a contract with PSU. We also can’t provide any of the other items because a parent notification was not sent. We are treating it just like the DIBELS or other universal progress monitoring or benchmark assessments, except it is all anonymous. We also do not consider it a survey, but an assessment which looks at competencies that are linked to New Hampshire’s work study competencies. Once the universal assessment is completed if a student is flagged and further assessment is needed, we will obtain parent consent. We just began the process so we haven’t even finished all the universal screeners. I hope this helps. Please let me know if you need anything else.

Laura

It appears as if parents were not notified that their children would be screened with a psychological evaluation, this is somehow anonymous, psychological evaluations are now part of the Competency Based Education model in all NH schools and, if a student is flagged, only then are they contacting parents for written consent.

This has generated more concerns and questions based on some of the answers I received back.

1) This kind of data sharing that is considered is called “anonymous” but that has been disputed by Computer Tech expertshttps://medium.com/@jondipietro/non-academic-surveys-and-the-myth-of-anonymity-da930a8d81ae

2) It appears as if this district (SAU35) never notified parents which would mean no consent was provided. Do parents in the Plymouth State Project or in districts using the DESSA tool informing parents and seeking written consent? 

3) Competency Based Education in all NH schools may include psychological evaluations and profiling of children. PACE assessments along with other standardized assessments may provide more data on social and emotional behaviors and attitudes to testing companies. No indication where it goes after it leaves the district. 

4) If a student is flagged and needs further assessment, schools finally obtain written consent.  How is this information anonymous, who the provides the “treatment”? 

5) There is no contract or anything in writing between the school district and PSU that provides:

  1. Privacy protections are in place.
  2. What protocols are in place if a breach occurs. Will parents finally be notified that their child’s sensitive data has been released?
  3. Where is the data going once it is released to PSU? It appears as if there is no contractual obligation that says what they will be doing with the data. 

6) Under #7 PSU provides a list of Ethics Codes they follow however the American Psychological Association specifically states that written consent must be obtained from parents when performing these kinds of assessmentshttp://www.apa.org/ethics/code/ (See #9)

Some schools are sharing this sensitive data on children with PSU, however other districts are screening students but keeping that information in the cloud data-base. It’s important that parents contact their local school district to see what kind of screening or evaluation is being done on their children.

To make matters worse, it appears as if districts like Sanborn, who are participating in the experimental PACE assessment program, will subject children to psychological evaluations through the standardized assessments.  Where does this information go?  PACE is an ongoing assessments used in Epping, Rochester, Sanborn Regional, Souhegan, Concord, Monroe, Pittsfield, SAU 35, and Seacoast Charter School.

Are psychological evaluations on children now going to be part of the standardized testing regiment? This is why attorneys for Liberty Counsel wrote a letter to some of the U.S. Congressional Representatives and Senators challenging this latest practice in standardized testing.  When did parents say they wanted the standardized testing to include psychological evaluations on their children?  Why isn’t anyone informing parents or asking for their consent?

The New Hampshire Department of Education also received a grant from the Federal Government that will provide resources to schools to conduct these ongoing evaluations.  I currently have a Right to Know Request filed with the NH Dept. of Ed to look at that grant application,.

Why is the federal government so interested in paying for schools to collect this data and share it without any respect for the role of parents or for basic privacy protections?  Will this information work its way to your child’s college application or application into the military some day?  What if your child applies for scholarships or a job after completing high school? If this information is shared with the Federal Government, this data can be then shared with different departments, like the Labor Department.

There are a few things parents can do right now.  

1) File a Right to Know request in your local district (RSA 91-a) and ask if your district will be gathering social and emotional data on your child. Get everything in writing. 

2) Ask where this information is collected and stored.

3) Are they sharing this information with ANYONE outside the district?

4) Consider NEVER letting your children take any of the State Standardized Assessments (PACE, Smarter Balanced Assessment, SAT) if it’s not needed by YOU.  Parents across the state are REFUSING to let their children participate in these assessments. 

5) Look to develop local policy that requires written consent from parents before your district can conduct a psychological evaluation on the students. 

6) Contact your State Representatives and Senator and tell them you want them to file and support legislation that would require written consent from parents before the district could screen your child in this way. 

7) Let administrators and teachers know in writing that you do not want your child to participate in any of these kinds of screenings or assessments. 

8) Consider talking to an attorney if your district is working with PSU or using any kind of evaluation without your knowledge or consent. 

I will be looking at current federal and state laws to see if there is a provision that requires written consent from parents before a psychological evaluation can be done on students in the public school.  If this was done by a licensed provider outside your district, that provider would have to follow the ethics code and follow the HIPPA law.  If there is a loophole that needs to be closed I will be looking for legislative sponsors to put that in protection in place through state statute.

I’ve spoken with parents, teachers, physicians, child psychologists, the ACLU and computer experts who are all disturbed by what is going on in our public schools.  The lack of respect for parental rights and the flippant sharing of sensitive data should generate a great deal of concern and backlash from parents living in those school districts.  We should expect the individuals using our tax dollars to be the ones who are working to keep parents informed and assure us that this data is secure.  When that fails, and it looks like it’s failing miserably in New Hampshire, we need to all work together to fix this problem before someone gets hurt.

Ann Marie Banfield currently volunteers as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire. She has been researching education reform for over a decade and actively supports parental rights, literacy and academic excellence in k-12 schools. You can contact her at: [email protected]