Jeffco to allow dashboard opt out

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After an outcry from parents, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson announced last week that the district will allow students to opt out of a classroom data system that the district is expected to pilot next year.

The move by Stevenson is a nod to criticism from parents who have called on the district to allow them to choose whether they allow their children’s data to be used in a soon-to-be-created “virtual data dashboard” — which would be capable of holding students’ personal information and academic records.

Stevenson informed parents of the opt-out decision in a recent district newsletter.

“We have listened carefully to the concerns of some of our parents who believe the dashboard is not the right choice for their child,” Stevenson wrote in the district’s “Chalk Talk” newsletter. “Because we’re committed to creating a win-win situation for all of our students and their families, as well as our teachers, we are working to create an opt-out provision for all parents who feel the tools we are developing don’t meet their family’s needs.”

The classroom dashboard is being touted by supporters as a way for teachers to better personalize instruction through a “one-stop shopping” database.

But opponents fear that the system could compromise student privacy and security. And they have been especially critical of the role of the company that will be storing student data for the district — the Georgia-based nonprofit inBloom.

inBloom is a $100 million entity that is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that provides data gathering technology to classroom dashboards

Right now, only three states are either currently partnering with inBloom or will be doing so in the near future: New York, Illinois and Colorado. However, other states have backed away from plans to implement inBloom-backed dashboards, after hearing protests from community members.

Jefferson County, the state’s largest school district, is the only district in Colorado that is scheduled to pilot the system, which is expected to happen next year. The district will not be charged for the system until 2015, when it will cost the district $2-$5 a student for continued operation.

The technology is capable of holding thousands of data points on students, including academic information like reading and math scores. But it can also hold personal data, such as a student’s health information or disciplinary records.

The district insists that the dashboard — which will be provided by a separate software company called LoudCloud — will only collect pertinent academic information that is already being gathered through multiple existing databases, such as grades, enrollment information and student demographics. But those assurances have done little to settle concerns on the parts of parents and other inBloom detractors who remain highly skeptical of its implementation.

Stevenson had said in previous interviews that allowing parents to opt out of the dashboard would compromise its data. But she told Colorado Community Media after the decision last week that she is not concerned about droves of parents opting out, because she believes most of them will see the value in the dashboard, as they continue to learn more about its benefits.

“We’re going to make sure that people have all the information they need before making decision,” she said. “We’re really trying to make a win-win.”

Stevenson said the district “is not going to create two systems” for students who are a part of the dashboard and for those who decide to opt-out. Instead, parents who decide to pull their children out of the database “will have the same services as we have today,” through existing, multiple databases.

But that doesn’t make any sense, said District 2 board director Laura Boggs, who has long-been a critic of inBloom’s involvement in Jeffco’s dashboard. She said one of the main selling points of the inBloom-backed dashboard is that teachers will be able to condense data into one system.

“Now, you’re a teacher in an opt-out environment,” Boggs said. “And you can have 25 students in the system and five are not. So do you still have to go to seven other district systems?

‘I don’t understand it. I think it’s great that the district is leaning toward listening to parents, but the practicality of the (opt-out) offer doesn’t allow the advantages of the system.”

Boggs now wonders if the dashboard is “worth the investment.”

“The challenging conversation for community will be, should we continue down LoudCloud and inBloom path?” Boggs said.

But Board president Lesley Dahlkemper, who supports the opt-out decision, wonders if it’s premature to be having that type of conservation. She reminded board members at a Sept. 19 meeting that this is a “pilot project” and that there will be plenty of time to have these discussions before the system is ever implemented.

“What we tend to do is get ahead of ourselves rather than unpacking this and having more conversation,” she said.