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The digital backpack: How Idaho schools collect data on your kids

The digital backpack: How Idaho schools collect data on your kids

Lindsay Russell Dexter
July 28, 2016

In less than a month, Idaho students will begin the 2016-17 school year. As the first day of school approaches, the amount of information distributed to students and parents doubles. This includes Information about registration dates, schedules, supplies, sporting events and anything else parents and students may need to know.

The younger students will be armed with new crayons and tissues, while the older students will confidently stride through the doors with their college-ruled loose-leaf paper. Aside from the wide-eyed kindergartners, most other students and their parents will start the school year with a good sense of their daily routines.

But there’s a list of more than a hundred things affecting every student and parent that will never be distributed, discussed or explained with any real thoroughness. The list represents the data points of information that will be collected on every student and then shared and kept until the student reaches the workforce. The state collects this information and keeps it in a longitudinal data system it calls a student’s data backpack.

Some of those data points include sensitive information, such as disciplinary action and psychometric data. For example, if a student gets in trouble on the playground in fifth-grade, that record will follow him or her all the way through graduation and beyond.

Student data can and is shared with other state and federal agencies, including; the Department of Health and Welfare, Data Recognition Corp, Federal Education Facts, Smarter Balance Consortium (other states), Department of Labor, Department of Juvenile Corrections, Department of Transportation and several others.

But for what purpose and to what end?

When school starts, neither the student nor the parent will be told that more than a hundred different pieces of information will be collected on the student. They won't be told what the data is being used for and who has access. Further, it is extremely difficult and in many ways impossible for parents to gain access to their student’s data backpack. Under current statute, the only way a parent can gain access to their own child’s information is through a state public record request and a follow-up in-person meeting with a representative.

Public record requests are usually used to hold state bureaucracies accountable and provide transparency. It is absolutely egregious that parents must employ the same tool used for government accountability to retrieve sensitive information on their own child. A parent should, at any time, be able to access their student's backpack in its entirety, including what information has been shared and with whom.

Although the 2016-17 school year is almost here, the 2017 legislative session is still five months away. Five months is plenty of time for parents and students to get involved and contact their legislators with their desire to see a change in the way student information is collected, shared and kept.

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