Senate leader calls for delay of student-data storage plan

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, on Thursday issued a report of findings and recommendations related to the commission's recent series of statewide public hearings on Common Core standards. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (Dec. 12, 2013)

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Controversial state plans to turn over school records for 2.3 million students to a private high-tech corporation for storage and management would be delayed and sharply curtailed under recommendations issued Thursday by the leader of the State Senate's Education Committee.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), at a news conference in Brentwood, called for a year's delay in the state Education Department's plan to establish a website "portal" that parents and others could use in obtaining student data deposited with inBloom Inc., a nonprofit Atlanta-based corporation.

"I think we need to take a step back," Flanagan said. "The public, I would say at this point, is beyond frustrated."

The Assembly already has approved legislation empowering parents to block inBloom from obtaining their children's records.

The new data system would store student records, including academic and disciplinary reports, using "cloud" technology. The corporation is funded largely by a $100 million contribution from a family foundation of software billionaire Bill Gates.

New York has emerged as a national testing ground for inBloom, and the state is investing more than $50 million in technology to support the system. But the plan has sparked an outcry from educators and parents who are concerned about the privacy of students' records.

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The project's supporters have asserted it affords a superior level of protection and distribution of data through its use of state-of-the-art technology, will save schools money, and will allow for better, customized use of students' scores both by teachers and parents. An inBloom spokesman, Adam Gaber, did not respond to a request for comment.

Education Department officials had expressed hope earlier this year that the project could be up and running by spring.

Flanagan's proposal would restrict inBloom's ability to collect data by allowing local school districts to opt out of participation. As chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, he is a key figure on statewide school policy issues, and he led the committee in holding five hearings across the state before issuing the findings Thursday.

The report also has nine specific recommendations that include providing more state funding for teacher training, drafting a new "Parents' Bill of Rights" on privacy issues and banning tests of students in preschool through grade 2 for the purpose of rating teachers' job performance.

Merryl R. Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy, said she and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. have heard similar critiques in separate public forums held since October.

"While we have concerns about some aspects of the report, it's clear that Senator Flanagan has put together some strong recommendations that we look forward to working collaboratively to address," she said.

Flanagan's recommendations on inBloom and other issues won praise from representatives of school boards, administrators and teachers. Parent leaders were more skeptical.

"I don't know any school district that agrees with giving very sensitive student information to a private company, so that [proposal] is welcome," said Stephen Witt, a longtime member of the Hewlett-Woodmere school board and a former president of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association.

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Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, a leader of parent campaigns against revved-up state testing, said Flanagan's recommendations did not go far enough in curbing inBloom. "The problem is, it still doesn't address the concerns of parents worried about turning student data over to a corporation," she said.

key recommendations

-- Delay for one year establishing a state website "portal" to be used to obtain student data stored and managed by inBloom Inc., a nonprofit corporation.

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-- Give districts authority to opt out of inBloom participation.

-- Realign questions on state English Language Arts and math tests so students do not face material they have not had enough opportunity to learn.

-- Require State Education Department to do more to communicate with the public, especially regarding the Common Core academic standards and related curriculum.

-- Seeking legislation to prohibit standardized testing of students in Pre-K through Grade 2 for anything other than diagnostic purposes or required by federal law.

-- Seeking legislation requiring the education commissioner to review teacher evaluation plans specifically to eliminate excess testing.

-- Seeking legislation requiring the education commissioner to report on effectiveness of Common Core-related state tests and

an independent audit to evaluate the tests.

-- Increase state funds for teacher training.

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