ACT will be the high school test in Illinois—Will ISBE let ACT, Inc. sell student data?

Last week the Illinois State Board of Education announced that it is now official, the state will be switching back to ACT for the high school test for 11th graders, and it will be a graduation requirement for public schools. Other ACT, Inc. tests will be administered for 9th and 10th grades. 

This will be a $53 million contract over six years, and the choice of ACT, Inc. over SAT-vendor College Board came down to price, according to the State Board chair. (Prior to switching to the SAT in 2016, the ACT was the test administered to comply with federal accountability law.)

We’ve said this before: The bid process for a new contract wasn’t paired with any robust public discussion of what changes for the better to high school curriculum and instruction could be ushered in with a new state test. And the heavy emphasis on prepping for college admissions tests in Illinois high schools makes little sense given the rise in test-optional admissions, including for all Illinois public universities and colleges. 

The federal government requires testing purportedly to hold schools accountable by measuring whether their students have mastered specific learning standards or academic skills. But college admissions tests (both SAT and ACT) are norm-referenced tests that don’t measure that. (Read more about this here: What do state test scores measure?)

What about those illegal data sales by the College Board?

Unfortunately, the change from the SAT suite of tests to the ACT won’t end the issue of illegal sales of student data by test vendors. ACT, Inc. sells test data, just the like the College Board does. 

Learn more: Slides and a recording of our recent webinar with Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and Class Size Matters “No more student data sales!”

Moreover, ACT, Inc. was recently purchased by a private equity company that is making the testing and data sales parts of its business into a for-profit subsidiary

In addition, the State and many local districts will continue to have contracts with the College Board besides for Advanced Placement tests, which are also a College Board product.

ISBE wants to finalize its contract with ACT, Inc. by July 1. Although it seems truly basic, that a contract with a state vendor wouldn’t explicitly allow the vendor to break state law, that’s precisely what the previous contract with the College Board permitted. 

New York State’s attorney general recently stopped student data sales by the College Board there. Illinois students deserve the same protection.

What can we do?

Push ISBE to ensure that the new contract with ACT, Inc. does NOT permit data sales under the guise of “licensing”: You can help with this by writing to both the ISBE board members and State Superintendent Tony Sanders.

Action Step: Tell ISBE: Don't let ACT, Inc. sell student data!

☞ Push Illinois Attorney General to enforce state law: The College Board will continue to have a contract with the state because Illinois covers fee waivers for low-income students who take AP tests. AG Kwame Raoul should stop the College Board from selling data going forward, hold them accountable for prior sales, and ensure that ISBE doesn’t enter into contracts permitting illegal practices.

Action Step: Tell IL's Attorney General: No more student data sales!

☞ If your child is under 18 and their data has been sold by the College Board, and therefore redisclosed to additional third parties without written parental consent, then this is a violation of the federal student privacy law Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): "[T]esting companies would generally be prohibited from re-disclosing PII from students’ education records under FERPA and IDEA (including redisclosure to [institutions of higher education], scholarship organizations, and other organizations) without the prior, written consent of the parent or eligible student." (p. 7)

Action Step: You can file a complaint about a FERPA violation with the US Department of Education. Please contact us if you would like assistance: [email protected]