If you’re a parent of a child starting school this fall, you have plenty to worry about. First of all, you hope your child likes school, can make friends and gets a good teacher, and, oh yeah, can also find their way onto the right bus. Once that gets taken care of, parents can also worry about something called the Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA).
And they have good reason to be worried about it. KEA is a prototypical Big Government program that gathers personal data about students from the time they’re little children until adulthood, with insufficient safeguards to ensure the information is kept safe and used fairly.
What is KEA? KEA is the beginning part of an assessment tool called the NC K-3 Formative Assessment that compiles student data from the time a child enters kindergarten until five years after the student enters the workforce – from early childhood to adulthood. KEAs for 120,000 kindergarten students will begin this fall. (Find out more about K-3 Assessment process here).
Also, K-3 is not the standard paper and pencil assessment. According to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), “The KEA provides a snapshot of a child’s development and is used to assess the five essential domains of school readiness: language and literacy development, cognition and general knowledge, approaches toward learning, physical well-being and motor development, and social and emotional knowledge.” The goal of KEA is to provide teachers a better understanding of each child’s progress toward meeting the standards and using the information gathered to bolster a child’s success.
Teachers collect data via their own written observations or via audio and video recordings. A new app allows teachers to capture the “evidence” and to store it on an electronic platform. The data will help teachers determine a “child profile” that will follow the child and help teachers determine a learning status or rating in each particular area.
This fall, teachers will collect data in only two areas: objective counting, and book orientation and print awareness. However, beginning next year more data will be collected for other learning areas and in other grades. In fact, there is an expectation that data collection will increase significantly in the years ahead.
There are many reasons why a growing number of parents and teachers find the KEA and the accompanying data collection efforts unsettling.
Before we delve into specifics, let’s look at the big picture. KEA is part of a data collection scheme that tracks students for 20 years. The whole system is based on the assumption that the best way to grow the economy is through a massive data collection system that allows policymakers to analyze and manage the workforce. It‘s premised on an assumption many of us would consider flawed: control of education is necessary to control the economy. To do that, education bureaucrats are creating a large student data collection system called P20W – P meaning preschool and 20W meaning four years into the workforce. It’s a progressive’s dream: a massive data collection system to track and assess children all in the name of improving our economy. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a lot.
First, parents and teachers are not prepared for it. If you mention KEA to teachers or parents, you’re likely to get blank stares. Few teachers or administrators have ever heard anything about KEA. When they find out about it, parents frequently ask if they can choose not to participate. The Department of Public Instruction says all students must participate and have a child profile created. Of course, you have to wonder why teachers and parents knew so little about KEA and the data collection efforts – until it was time to participate and all the decisions were already made.
Second, parents have legitimate concerns about having their child appear in videos or photographs. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) does acknowledge that’s a real concern, so it provides parental opt-out for such cases.
While the opt-out is good news, the situation is still troubling. Parents already have the ability to say they don’t wish to have their child’s picture used in media. However, it appears schools and DPI are doing little to publicize the opt-out provision. Few parents and teachers even know about it. Second, the current opt-out form fails to make a distinction between photos or videos made for public or personal use (i.e. a child development profile). Since many parents wouldn’t have problems with posting photos of their child in a classroom and not a public place, it might be helpful to create another form to address these concerns. Yet is that enough?
KEA has lots of unanswered questions. For example: Exactly what data does KEA collect for the schools? Where will the data be stored? Who has access to the data? What safeguards are in place in the event of a data breach? What questions will the data help people to answer? Do parents have the right to opt out their child from KEA data collection efforts and the creation of a child profile?
Parents have legitimate concerns and questions that should be answered. Why does the government need this information about my child? What safeguards exist to ensure the data won’t be breached or stolen?
Education administrators and policy advocates tell us not to worry. Unique identifiers will protect each child’s identity, they say. Moreover, policies are already in place at DPI to ensure data is not misused. Or so they say.
But try telling that to employees at Sony, Target, and the Office of Personnel Management. In today’s world, we know better. Online data is always at risk.
The data collection raises other questions. Gathering data on preschoolers that will follow them until they are four or five years into the workforce is an idea that is likely to raise the eyebrows of most people. It’s a highly questionable process. Teachers must evaluate profile data on each 5-year-old entering the system. The profile includes clinical areas such as emotional and social development and non-clinical, more subjective areas. How do we know that students will be fairly evaluated? How do we know teachers have enough time to perform adequate evaluations?
Another problem with KEA is the construct areas (student skills and abilities). As mentioned above, this fall teachers will be evaluating kindergarten students in two construct areas: objective counting is the first and book orientation and print awareness the second. In the coming months, DPI will add additional constructs and new requirements for data in different construct areas. To some, that might seem pretty straightforward, especially if we’re dealing with objective aspects of cognitive development.
However, subjectivity gets thrust into the equation pretty quickly. Teachers will be required to collect additional “evidence” in areas such as emotional and social development, emotional literacy, and emotional regulation. These criteria are by definition more subjective and require far more interpretation by teachers. How will parents know that student data will be accurately recorded and that scores aren’t merely a function as to whether or not a teacher likes a particular student?
If you think all this sounds a bit Orwellian, you’re not alone. A recent Civitas poll found 69 percent of parents support allowing a provision for parents to opt out of the data collection system and the creation of a child profile.
Despite public opposition, KEA moves forward. Interestingly, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was intended to protect the rights of parents and students against such abuses. While the gathering of large amounts of student data may have some beneficial effects, it has resulted in a severe decline in student and parental protections over data and those who control it.
What’s most alarming is that most parents don’t know this data is being collected. I believe most who advocated for collection of such information want it that way. They know most parents would object if they knew what was being gathered.
KEA thrusts children and parents into a brave new world of electronic data collection of personal information and big government databases. As mentioned above, if you ask your child’s teacher about your child’s profile or about your ability to opt-out your child from visual and audio assessment, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. This isn’t good.
Parents are the ultimate protectors of their children. And their rights need to be strengthened, not weakened. DPI’s KEA assessment and data collection efforts weaken those rights and need to be changed.
Sadly no one at DPI seems to be listening. Let’s hope the General Assembly is.
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