Illinois lawmakers ask attorney general to investigate College Board over student data – Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette

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SPRINGFIELD — Nine Democratic lawmakers are calling on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to investigate the business practices of the College Board, including the sale of data it collects from students who take the SAT and PSAT exams.

The action comes about a week before high school students throughout the state are due to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, or PSAT, which among other things is used to determine eligibility for National Merit Scholarships.

Next spring, high school juniors throughout the state will take the SAT, a college-entrance exam that the state mandates as part of its school accountability program.

The College Board’s practice of selling student data through its Student Search Service program was the subject of national news reports by the New York Times and Washington Post, among others.

In May, a representative from the College Board, Todd Iverson, confirmed to the state Senate Judiciary Committee that the company sells access to data from Illinois students for 45 cents per student. That testimony came as the panel was considering legislation to strengthen the state’s Student Online Personal Protection Act.

But Sara Sympson, a spokeswoman for the College Board, said in an email Thursday the nonprofit company does not “sell” the data but rather makes the information available “under strict licensing agreements with colleges, scholarship partners and nonprofit organizations.”

The program is voluntary, she said, and students must “affirmatively declare” they want to have conversations with schools and scholarship providers.

Lawmakers cry foul

Those who access the data, Sympson said, must adhere to precise rules that require the data be used for only noncommercial, education-related purposes. They also must agree not to share student information with third parties, other than mail service providers and other contractors, and they must destroy the data once their agreement expires.

“Students and their families need information to help them navigate the winding and complicated path to college and career,” Sympson said. “Student Search fills that need, providing information that can support their transition to college, particularly for historically underrepresented student populations who are already disproportionately unlikely to apply, enroll, and graduate from college.”

But the group of lawmakers urging Raoul to investigate argued that the College Board is less than transparent about the program.

“Although the College Board asks students for their consent (including those under age 18) for disclosing their data to colleges, universities and scholarship providers, they do not inform either students or parents that they will be providing the data to these organizations in exchange for a monetary payment,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Raoul.

$29 million contract

The data involved in the program includes not just students’ test scores, but also information they provide on survey questionnaires that accompany those exams, such as their academic interests and their activities in high school. Colleges, universities and scholarship programs buy the data to identify prospective students.

The lawmakers also noted the College Board is a significant vendor for the state. It has a $29 million contract with the Illinois State Board of Education for the SAT and PSAT exams, and last year it was paid more than $2 million to cover fees for Advanced Placement tests for low-income students.

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Cristina Castro of Elgin; Robert Martwick of Chicago; Laura Murphy of Des Plaines; and Robert Peters of Chicago. Democratic Reps. Robyn Gabel of Evanston and Will Guzzardi, Lindsey LaPointe, Aaron Ortiz and Ann Williams, all of Chicago, also signed on.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation. Its mission is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

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October 11, 2019 at 08:14AM

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