Remarks at ISBE March Board meeting on illegal student data sales

Our executive director Cassie Creswell spoke at the IL State Board of Education's monthly board meeting on March 13, 2024 about the College Board's sale of Illinois student data, and the need for the Board to ensure that for any new assessment contracts going forward, whether with College Board or ACT, Inc., these illegal data sales are stopped. Full remarks below.

Remarks to Illinois State Board of Education
March 13, 2024 Board Meeting

Hello, I’m Cassie Creswell, executive director of Illinois Families for Public Schools and a Chicago Public Schools parent. 

I’m here to bring your attention to a letter that my organization and eight other state and national advocacy groups recently sent to the Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, also cc’ing Superintendent Sanders and the State Board.

In the letter we asked the AG to enforce Illinois’ state student privacy law, the Student Online Personal Protection Act or SOPPA with respect to its prohibition on the sale of Illinois school students’ data.

The College Board is the current state vendor for the high school assessments, PSAT and SAT, which Illinois' public high schools give to comply with federal law. And the College Board is also a major vendor of students’ personal data, which they have access to via the administration of their tests during the school day and via student use of their website. The data they sell includes names, addresses, ethnicity and race, economic status, GPA, test score ranges, and other personal information. The College Board sells this data to over 1000 organizations and institutions. The US Department of Education warned local education agencies about the practice in 2018.

This is a clear violation of SOPPA’s prohibition on selling or renting student data.

New York State also has a strong student data privacy law, and last month, the New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a settlement agreement with the College Board. They will no longer be permitted to sell New York students’ data and paid a fine for doing so in the past. 

In December an RFP was released for a new high school assessment, and it appears that the new vendor will be ACT, Inc. rather than the College Board.

Two important things for Board members to note on this:

  1. The State also has a contract with the College Board for Advanced Placement tests, and the College Board sells data it acquires through the administrations of those tests too.
  2. ACT, Inc. also sells student data via their subsidiary Encoura.

Please do your duty as Board members and ensure that these illegal practices stop. Any new contracts signed with the College Board or ACT, Inc. should be clear that data sales are illegal and will no longer be tolerated.

There is no exception in the student data privacy law for asking students or parents permission for sales. And “licensing” is the same as selling or renting.

Also note that the General Assembly passed a law last year that would give access to our state’s public higher ed institutions to students’ Directory Information for free. My organization has concerns about the details of that sharing, but it exists, and as such, there’s no justification for our higher ed institutions buying data from College Board and ACT, Inc, and no justification for ISBE to continue to allow these sales to take place.

Illinois students deserve the same protections that students in New York State now enjoy.