Last spring the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) testified that it only collects 61 data points on each public school student in the state. Here is the data it says it collects. The agency further stated it has no intention of collecting any additional data. We have highlighted several times in the blog where DESE has boasted about Missouri being the leader in data collection. Hard to brag about a measly 61 data points. However, if we go back, all the way back to April of 2011, the view of what DESE wants to collect is a little different. The boasts become a little more believable.

At that time DESE issued a *Request For Proposal for a supplier to bid on supplying a Statewide Student Information System (SSIS) that is about as all encompassing as you can imagine. You can find links to the original RFP here. Take a close look at the soon to be infamous Exhibit D. This is a spreadsheet of the data points DESE wanted to know if a vendor could collect using vendor developed software. Just to give you a little sample of what you can find in this spreadsheet:

Line 21 – Does the system interface with any of these other systems?

  • automated parent notification systems?
  • email delivery systems (i.e.:  MS Exchange). Describe the capabilities.
  • health/medical systems? If so, which ones?
  • special education systems?  If so, which ones?
  • instructional management systems? Which ones?
  • transportation systems?  Which ones?

Line 495 – Is the system capable of retaining a copy of Social Security card on file designator? Line 576 – Parent occupation Line 295 –  Ability to mark a course to not print on Report Card or Transcript.

The spreadsheet looks like a group sat down and tried to figure out every activity a school district might want to track so that the software provided could be sold as having the capability to address every possible district need. The list is of the “everything including the kitchen sink” variety. There is an entire section of the spreadsheet essentially asking whether this software could be used to do course scheduling (i.e. will it screen for pre-requisite courses, teacher preferences, etc.) For those who wonder how the data collected might affect their child’s future, imagine if there were a statewide class scheduling program that would determine which classes your child was assigned. Imagine what your local district’s response might be if your child was not scheduled for the courses he/she signed up for. “I don’t know why Amber isn’t scheduled for economics Mrs. Smith, but the system won’t allow me to bring up that option.” Now imagine that this data was accessible by all the stakeholders  mentioned in the revised FERPA regulation (researchers, businesses, vendors, DHHS etc.) This RFP was withdrawn within a month of being issued so no doubt DESE would say we have nothing to worry about since the RFP was dropped. However, a public agency does not readily completely scrap the effort that went into developing this detailed an RFP. At worst, it would shelve it until the signs were more fortuitous for bringing it out again.

* On a small point, I find it strange that DESE gave vendors only three weeks to supply a bid that would have to answer almost 1200 lines of questions regarding its system’s capabilities. Perhaps that is the norm for data collection agencies these days. Perhaps that is because it had a vendor in mind and knew what it could supply and merely backward engineered the RFP.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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