AZ Board Of Education Disclosed Student Names, Birthdays, Test Scores

By Jim Small

The Arizona State Board of Education violated federal student privacy law by disclosing the names of more than a thousand Arizona students, in some cases along with their birthdays, and their scores on the AzMERIT exams in response to a public records request filed by AZCIR.

The students all attend schools that are appealing the letter grades awarded in October by the Board of Education. AZCIR filed a public records request for all such appeals, and the Board of Education on Oct. 13 provided the documents that were submitted by 73 schools. AZCIR published those documents Oct. 16 as part of its reporting detailing the reasons schools cited for appealing their grades.

However, Board staff did not redact identifying student information from the files before complying with the records request, as required by federal law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records, including family information, test scores, grades and disciplinary records.

FERPA applies to schools and other educational institutions that accept federal funding, including the State Board of Education. Violators risk losing their federal funding.

Carrie OBrien, an attorney at Gust Rosenfeld and the Arizona Department of Education’s chief privacy officer and director of legal services from 2012 to 2016, said the breach is troubling, and should prompt the Board of Education to revisit its data practices.

“If I was a parent, and that was my kid’s data, I wouldn’t have been happy,” she said. “The fact that it was published on the internet makes it worse. The magnitude is that much greater.”

AZCIR learned on Oct. 24 that the documents it published included federally protected student information when an administrator for New School for the Arts and Academics, a charter school in Tempe, asked for documents related to its appeal to be removed from the AZCIR website.

The charter school also informed the Arizona Department of Education that its student data had been released to the media.

Upon examination, AZCIR discovered that student names were included in appeals filings for six schools: Cesar Chavez High School, Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, Leading Edge Academy East Mesa, New School for the Arts and Academics, Paramount Academy and Sinagua Middle School.

In addition to the names, the data included student scores on AzMERIT tests. In several cases, student birthdays were aso included.

AZCIR immediately removed the files from its website.

On Oct. 25, Catcher Baden, the Board of Education’s deputy director and spokesman, told AZCIR that the Board had learned of the disclosure earlier that day. He said he could not comment at that time.

The next day, the Board of Education informed AZCIR and other media organizations that it had incorrectly released records with student identifying information. It is unknown if the Board informed the schools whose students’ privacy was violated, though an administrator at one of the schools was unaware of the disclosure until contacted by AZCIR.

Dr. Karol Schmidt, the executive director of the Board of Education, said her staff had actually prepared redacted versions of the appeals documents, but an employee inadvertently sent the original documents to the media.

“It was an honest mistake,” she said.

Schmidt said the employee who made the mistake was still on staff, but she declined to identify the employee. However, she did say that the Board is adding new procedures to ensure similar disclosures don’t happen in the future.

“Going forward, there will be review by the executive director and attorney general, as appropriate, before the files go out,” she said.

About Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting 25 Articles
The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting is an independent, nonprofit media organization dedicated to statewide accountability journalism in Arizona. AZCIR’s mission is to produce, foster and promote investigative journalism through original and collaborative reporting, public events and trainings, for the betterment of our communities.

2 Comments

  1. Good grief, FERPA which is supposed to protect student’s privacy isn’t followed at the State Board of Ed? This is an appointed group who should know and respect this law to the highest degree. Elected Supt Douglas is a member of the State Board of Ed and goes around AZ on her “In One Ear Out The Other Listening Tours.” She claims protecting student privacy is important, yet everyone involved is quick to protect the privacy of the employee who made the mistake. Carol Schmidt doesn’t even work for State Board anymore. Where’s the accountability to the 1000 students and their parents?

    Here’s another reason Parents should Opt Out of having their child taking the AZMERIT test. Student’s private data surrounding this test is what was leaked and not protected. The irony of this is astounding. The State Board of Ed created the clumsy ill conceived A-F “Accountability Plan” and none of them are held accountable to the leak.

    Parents need to protect their kids’ privacy because right now no one appointed or elected is up to the job and further they just don’t care.

    Lots of talk but actions speak louder than words.

    Parents: Opt Kids out since AZ can’t protect the information they collect.

  2. Am I misreading the article or wasn`t it AZCIR that put the student`s private information on the internet for the whole world to see? No doubt the State Board of Education is responsible for erroneously or improperly making the protected student information available to AZCIR but I don`t believe that relieves AZCIR from its duty to make sure the protected student information was safeguarded and not to publish the information on a broader scale. Both would seem to be to blame for a very serious error and both should make the appropriate changes to procedures to insure it doesn not happen again.

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