"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Clinical Psychologist's Concerns With Student Data Gathering

Last week during the House Education Committee hearing on SB210 Representative Margo McNeil asked witness Gretchen Logue what she was so worried about with the data gathering. Specifically she asked, "What is your worst case scenario with the data gathering?" Perhaps this article, written by a clinical psychologist, can offer a perspective on the dangers of gathering individual student data that Rep. McNeil could not herself imagine.

From Utahnsagainstcommoncore.com March 19, 2013 Dr. Gary Thompson
By way of background, I’m an African American Doctor of Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) currently serving as Director of Clinical Training & Community Advocacy at a private child psychology clinic in South Jordan, Utah.  I completed undergraduate education at both the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  In addition to my personal experiences involving my four children in public schools, I have completed multiple thousands of hours in training/therapy/assessment/legal advocacy work with children in both the private and public school settings in multiple western states.   I am also the author of a award winning doctoral project/dissertation which tackled the ago old problem of why many African American school aged children underperform in public schools titled, “Cracking the Da Vince Code of Cognitive Assessment of African American School Aged Children:  A Guide for Parents, Clinicians & Educators” (Thompson, G. 2008).
Dr. Thompson goes on to clarify that he is not an education professional and recognizes both pros and cons of common core standards themselves. He limits his comments to his area of expertise, "psychological and educational assessment/testing, as well as privacy acts surrounding the use of these tests in both private and educational setting."
He writes, "According to the U.S. Department of Education, CCSS will authorize the use of testing instruments that will measure the “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitude’s and intra personal resources” of public school students under CCSS (USDOE Feb, 2013 Report).  In a nutshell, CCSS simply states that it will develop highly effective assessments that measures….well….almost 'everything'.”
A careful, or even a casual review of a “comprehensive evaluation” would clearly show that the level of information provided about a particular child is both highly sensitive and extremely personal in nature. They are also extremely accurate.  In a private clinic such as ours, we follow strict privacy guidelines regarding patient privacy (HIPPA) and when dealing with educational institutions, we also make sure that we comply with the FERPA Act (Federal Education Reporting & Privacy Act). 
And here is where Dr. Thompson lays out the problem with the data being gathered by the federal government.
"The accuracy of psychological testing has grown in the past 10 years to astonishing levels.  The same tests used in our clinic for assessments, are used in part by federal law enforcement agencies, the military, local police departments, and the Central Intelligence Agency. (Interesting enough, these agencies are also interested in finding out about alleged terrorist’s, serial killers, or airline pilots “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes and intra personal resources”).  When placed in the “right” hands of trained mental health professionals, psychological testing can save lives.   Placed in the “wrong” hands, psychological testing can ruin lives as well as cause psychological trauma to people if they have knowledge that their results were used for nefarious purposes."
Below are issues regarding CCSS “testing” policies that have not been addressed by the Common Core to State’s Governors’, State Superintendents, State School Boards, local school district superintendents, local school boards, to parents of children in public school education:
  1. Common Core does not address what types of tests will be utilized on our children.
  2. Common Core does not address, specifically, exactly who is developing these tests.
  3. Common Core does not address the fact that these tests have not yet been developed, and are not available for public consumption or private review by clinical psychology  researchers and psychometric professionals.
  4. Common Core does not address if the soon to be completed tests will be subjected to the same rigorous peer review process that ALL testing instruments are subjected to prior to being released to mental health professionals for their use in the private sector.
  5. Common Core does not state which public school employees would be administering or interpreting these tests.   There is a reason that School Psychologists cannot “practice” outside of their scope in school districts.   As hard working and as wonderful as this group is, their training pales in comparison to the average local clinical psychologist.
  6. Common Core does not address the well documented, peer-reviewed fact that both African American and Latino students, due to cultural issues, tend to have skewed testing results when cultural issues are not addressed prior to the initiation of such testing.  This should probably be addressed if these results are going to be following a student “from cradle to high school graduation.” 
  7. Lastly, once these highly intimate, powerful, and most likely inaccurate testing results are completed, who EXACTLY will have access to all of this data?   Common Core DOES address this issue and it is the subject of the next section.
Records do not leave our clinic unless the guardians of the children instruct us, or unless a District Court judge orders the release of the records.   In some cases, we are even ethically obligated to fight court orders that request private mental health records.   
Common Core State Standards radically changes this game.  
Buried in all of the fine print of the CCSS is a provision that allows participating school districts to ignore HIPPA protections.   The newly revised FERPA laws grants school districts and states HIPAA privacy waivers.  Department of Health & Human Services Regulation Section 160.103 states, in part,: “Protected health information EXCLUDES individually identifiable health information in education records covered by the Family Education Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA), as amended 20 U.S.C. 1232 g”.
CCSS also states that this “information” may be distributed to “organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions to develop, validate, or administer predictive testing.” (CCSS (6)(i). 
In summary CCSS allows the following by law:
  1. Grants school districts a waiver from FERPA in terms of deleting identifying information on their records.
  2. Allows school districts to then give these identifiable records basically to anyone who they deem to have an viable interest with these records.
  3. These organization or individuals chosen by the government to use this data to develop highly accurate predictive tests with no stated ethical procedures, guidelines, or institutional controls.   (What are they exactly trying to “predict”?”
  4. All without written parental consent.  
The data being gathered in the P-20 database model, the 400 data points, in some cases are circumstances of birth, but in most cases are really a record of personal choices and actions. They are evidence of lives lived (e.g. level of college completed by parents, religious affiliation), the same kind of evidence used in criminal investigations to determine motive or involvement. As evidence they should share the protections of the 4th amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures. The 5th amendment right not to incriminate oneself is stripped from children before they even know they have such a right. Their data set will be used to map out their life course. The ways in which the government proposes to use the data amount to a sentence for children that is limited only by their willingness to exert the effort necessary to break out of the path the system determines for them.
Perhaps of greater concern Representative McNeil is that the government's need, as laid out in regulatory language that defines what they want to know, will come to override our constitutionally protected rights like those described in the 4th and 5th amendments. These rights are supposed to be inalienable. They exist merely because we exist. The concern is that the government will be successful in convincing the people that its desire for something is greater than our rights, as the Georgetown Law Journal claimed. The concern is that through nothing more than mere regulation by a bureaucrat, our foundational document, the Bill of Rights, may be obliterated.

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