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There will be a good student data privacy bill this year

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New Hampshire has strong protections for student data already.  And the data management rules are the same for the Smarter Balanced test as they were for NECAP, so the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced test, in themselves, present no new risks. 

However, Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare), author of many of New Hampshire’s current data privacy protections, has submitted HB 1587 in response to changes in data management technology, new perceptions of the risks and evolving federal policy.  The bill addresses potential concerns about the Smarter Balanced test but goes beyond that as well.

In addition, Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), member of the House Education Committee and sponsor of 3 anti-Common Core bills, has submitted a student data privacy bill (HB 1586) and Rep. JR Hoell (R-Dunbarton) has one as well.  These bills take a more torn-from-the-headlines view based on the concerns voiced by Common Core opponents (as Rep. Cordelli does here in testimony supporting suspension of the Smarter Balanced test)

Thursday’s hearing was on the Kurk bill, before a bad-weather version of the House Education Committee with six members present.  Consultant Mike Schwartz testified on behalf of the New Hampshire Department of Education.  Here is the written version of his testimony:

Chairperson Gile and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to discuss House Bills HB1586 and 1587.  For the record, I am Michael Schwartz, a consultant at the NH DOE.  I am speaking to you in my role at the department, but also as  a school board member of 9 years and a parent of two public school students.   Please know the department, as do I, takes the privacy and security of education data very seriously.  We certainly understand the concerns of parents and need to protect student information.  We follow both state and federal requirements to ensure privacy. Our state law protects students above and beyond what is required and/or allowed in FERPA.  FERPA is an important floor when considering data privacy, but it is just that a floor, not the ceiling, not the full scope of data protection.

You should know that identifiable student data is only accessible to the schools responsible for educating the student. Data accessible to other entities including the public is only accessible via aggregate counts, not individual students.  In fact, if the number of students being reported is less than a minimum cell size (generally 11), then the data is not reported, to help ensure privacy.   So, to state it clearly, individual student data is not and will not be reported to the public or federal government.  In fact one year, we did not report an entire school’s state assessment results, because the whole school scored proficient with distinction on a state assessment.  So even though it was good news, by reporting the aggregate data you would have known each student scored in this top group — as such we respected their privacy and did not report the results publicly.  Again, as said, we do not give any student identifiable data to the Federal government. We only give aggregate data.

In regards to this bill, the Department is very supportive of a continuous effort to improve privacy and security.  As such we support the concept of this bill.  However, we do believe there are some modifications that must be made, to ensure this bill will enable schools to receive significant funding and allow the department to operate both direct service programs such as Vocation Rehabilitation Services and Disability Determination Services; and oversight programs such as English Language Services and Special Education.  We look forward to working with a subcommittee to help amend this bill to expand upon the existing privacy protections.

We understand Representative Kurk will be recommending some amendments.  He has met with us several times to revise HB 1587, we very much appreciate his efforts to consider both the education needs of students and the privacy needs of students and citizens.  We would like to work with the subcommittee, as well as, both Representatives Kurk and Cordelli to consider some additional modifications.  We did also meet with Representative Cordelli and also appreciate his efforts to consider the educational needs alongside the privacy requirements.  We are happy to work on amending HB 1586 instead, if that is the desire of the subcommittee.

Our suggested amendments to HB 1587 will…

  • Modify the bill to focus the data collection requirements on the unique pupil identification system and longitudinal database.
  • Modify the bill to expand the scope of public notice to all databases within the Department (including Special Ed and Voc Ed).
  • If desired, modify the bill to expand protections for teacher data.

We are in the process of drafting our suggestions that we can share with the subcommittee.

Thank you for hearing these remarks and I along with colleagues from the Department welcome any questions.

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