June 20, 2013 04:37

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed Wednesday to create a task force looking at the issue after concerns were raised about a state data-sharing agreement with an outside organization.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's top education board is reviewing how the state Department of Education stores and shares public school student data.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed Wednesday to create a task force looking at the issue after concerns were raised about a state data-sharing agreement with an outside organization.

Superintendent of Education John White said he has terminated the agreement with inBloom, a nonprofit funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that is seeking to create a national database of student information.

White told BESE members during a Tuesday committee meeting that he also asked for all Louisiana data to be removed from the database.

The superintendent assured BESE that personal student data - everything from addresses and test scores to information about learning disabilities and medical history - is protected in secure servers and behind computer firewalls.

But he agreed to the task force review suggested by board member Jim Garvey, saying it would be good to have experts look at the department's policies to make sure they are appropriate.

"I want to build trust in this process," White said.

Board member Holly Boffy said statewide and school district level standards need to be established for handling the vast amounts of data on hundreds of thousands of students around Louisiana.

"I think the use of technology has outpaced our policies," she said.

The organization inBloom says it is assembling the database to help states and school districts improve how they record student information and track performance, while helping train teachers to use available data to improve their teaching skills and lesson-planning.

Parents worried that personal information could be strewn across insecure computer systems, with private details about their children's grades, medical conditions and other issues leaked for others to see.

Jason France is a former Department of Education employee who worked on data collection for the agency and a parent of public school children. He said the state's contractual arrangement with inBloom runs through 2014 unless the department sends a certified letter ending it, and he said the deal contained no opt-out clause for parents.

"The contract is still in force and that data can be sent back at any time," he told BESE members.

White said he'll send the certified letter to inBloom, but he said he's sent several letters already notifying the organization that Louisiana's data-sharing had ended.

In other BESE action, the board also gave final approval to spending $2 million from an oil and gas trust fund for a pilot program to expand online high school course offerings to public school students. The "Course Choice" program will begin in the 2013-14 school year.

Initial plans were to finance the program through the public school funding formula, but the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional.

Traditional public school leaders objected to using the trust fund money for Course Choice, because much of the funding will come from dollars that otherwise would be paying for programs at public schools.