Test vendors: Stop selling our kids' data!

Illinois has one of the strongest laws in the country protecting the privacy and security of our public school students’ personal data, the Student Online Personal Protection Act, or SOPPA. Unfortunately, a major state vendor is violating that law by selling student data—the College Board, the maker of SAT, PSAT and Advanced Placement tests. The state requires public high schools to administer the SAT and PSAT during the school day. Most public high schools are also administering AP tests and additional administrations of the SAT and PSAT.

Illinois State Board of Education has announced that Illinois will now switch to the ACT for its high school accountability test in the coming school year, but unfortunately, ACT, Inc. also sells student data via its subsidiary, Encoura. And the College Board will continue to be a state and district vendor for Advanced Placement tests. So, that change won't fix this problem.

We need ISBE to ensure that any new contracts do not permit data sales. And we need the IL Attorney General Kwame Raoul to enforce the law and stop these illegal data sales. You can use this form to send him an email.

On May 6, 2024, IL-FPS held an online forum with the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and Class Size Matters to inform parents around the country about this issue and how New York State has recently stopped sales of student data there. Slides and a recording of the event are available here.

Read more about this issue below:

Why is the College Board selling data?
The College Board has been selling student data, including names, addresses, ethnicity and race, economic status, test score ranges, and other personal information since the early 1970s. Colleges and universities buy it to use for admissions recruitment. Other organizations, like for-profit summer programs, do too. There are ongoing concerns that this data is used in unethical ways, like recruiting wealthy out-of-state students or recruiting students unlikely to be admitted just to boost application numbers. ACT, Inc., the other major college admissions test vendor, also sells data.

Are these data sales legal?
Public schools started giving college admissions exams (SAT and ACT) in school during the school day as part of federal testing requirements more than 20 years ago. And then, in the last decade, many states passed laws that forbid sale of data collected from students in schools, including Illinois’ student data privacy law known as the Student Online Personal Protection Act (SOPPA). These laws made what was already a questionable practice clearly illegal. The US Department of Education has warned states and districts about the practice.

What's been done about it?
Advocates and even some elected officials have long objected to the sales, but the College Board has continued to sell student data from states with strict laws against it. But in an important development, in February 2024, New York State Attorney General Tish James announced that College Board could no longer sell New York students data and would be paying a $750,000 fine to settle past violations.

What about Illinois' students?
The power to enforce our privacy law, SOPPA, rests with our Attorney General Kwame Raoul. State legislators asked AG Raoul to investigate this matter back in 2019, but nothing came of that. Recently, IL-FPS and eight other organizations sent a letter to AG Raoul asking for him to enforce our state law and stop these sales here too. We'd like him to know that many families around the state are concerned about this issue and think Illinois students should have the same protections as New York students have.

Why is this important right now?
The College Board has a $54 million contract with the state for the SAT and PSAT. This contract expires this summer, and the State has decided to award a new $53 million contract for the high school assessment to ACT, Inc. Unfortunately, ACT, Inc. also sells student data via its subsidiary, Encoura! So, it's important to stop this illegal practice under current contracts and also ensure sales won't take place under any new contracts either. State vendors should follow state laws! Read our comments about this we shared at a State Board meeting in March 2024 here.

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