Selling out student privacy to the College Board: oppose SB3099

SB3099 is a bill written to benefit the College Board and ACT, Inc, allowing them to sell or rent sensitive student data that they access through questionnaires administered along with tests like the SAT. RYH Action urges parents and privacy advocates to submit a witness slip to oppose this bill in hearing tomorrow (3/12/2018)

This bill would amend the already inadequate protections of the Student Online Privacy Protection Act (SOPPA) (PA: 100-0315) passed last spring by waiving restrictions on the sale of student’s personal information for organizations like the College Board and ACT, Inc. SB3099 would also allow creation of profiles of individual students for any “post-secondary educational purposes.”

The College Board’s SAT is now the state-mandated test for juniors in Illinois, and the College Board has a very poor record on exploiting access to highly sensitive personal data. Students are asked for this information in the context of a high-stakes, state-mandated test and most do not realize, and in many cases are not even told, that providing this information is optional. And the College Board prevaricates in their description of what is done with this data, claiming that they do not “sell” it, but instead “license” access to it. (You can see a price list for what the College Board currently charges for access to students' data here.)

The questionnaire administered with the SAT urges students to provide sensitive personal information concerning their citizenship, religion, social security number, GPA, high school course work and interests, family’s education, income and/or military background, as well as behavioral information ( “self-ratings”).  At at least one Chicago high school last spring, students were told that answering these questions were mandatory.

While it is crucial to collect some of this information—namely race, gender, income, and parental education level—in order for test vendors and the public to measure test bias and correlation of scores with socio-economic status. However, SB3099 would allow this information to be used in a non-anonymized form to create profiles of students that academic institutions and scholarship providers can then use with predictive algorithms (in some cases provided by ACT, Inc itself) to determine which students to recruit and admit. These profiles, algorithms and predictions are not provided to students and parents.

Although they are non-profit corporations, both the College Board and ACT, Inc. have been criticized for excessive compensation of executives. And both organizations also spend heavily on lobbying. The commercial exploitation of student data by these orgs has been the subject of a Congressional inquiry and lawsuits in the past.

Bills similar to SB3099  giving SAT and ACT the ability to profit from student data have passed in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, North Carolina, Washington DC, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.  

However, at least 15 other states have passed or amended SOPIPA laws not giving ACT/SAT a free pass, including: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington.

Illinois' SOPPA language is modeled on a bill first passed in California in 2014 known as SOPIPA. SOPIPA was landmark student data privacy legislation spearheaded by industry-friendly Common Sense Media, and it contains many exceptions and loopholes for commercial purposes. Nonetheless, even California, where the political landscape is dominated by Silicon Valley, has withstood the pressure to weaken their law to allow for the College Board/ACT exception for 3+ years now, along with the 14 other states listed above.

Why should Illinois students be less protected than students in these other states? Why should these organizations be given special dispensation to exploit financially their state-mandated (in the case of the College Board) access to students?

You can fill out a witness slip opposing SB3099 here.