Privacy warning to parents whose kids will be taking the ACT or College Board (PSAT, SAT, AP) exams

Here is a one-page pdf flyer you can distribute to parents or post in your schools.

Both ACT and College Board sell personal student data to colleges and universities, as well as to other non-profit and for-profit organizations to help them recruit students and/or market their products and services.

The College Board makes an approximate $100 million per year from its “Student Search” program, for which it charges organizations 47 cents per student name. [1]  Last year, ACT was sued via a class action lawsuit, because they allegedly included student disability information in the data they sold to customers.[2]

 If your child is taking a College Board exam, and you don’t want any of their personal data sold, which may include their race, ethnicity, self-reported grades, religion and/or test scores within a certain range, as well as other confidential information, urge them NOT to fill out any of the optional questions that are included online or in the Student Questionnaire given before the administration of the exam.  They should also be sure not to check the box that indicates they want to participate in the College Board “Student Search” program.

If your child is taking the ACT, you and your child should also refrain from filling out any of the extraneous information asked for in the  ACT Student Profile Section, unless you want that data also sold and/or used for marketing purposes.

In May 2018, the US Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center warned schools and districts that have agreements with these companies to administer their exams during the school day that their practice of allowing these companies to gather confidential information directly from students and sell it without parental consent may be illegal under several federal laws.[3]

In addition, New York as well as Illinois and 21 other states prohibit school vendors from selling student data under any circumstances. [4]  Illinois legislators have now asked the State Attorney General to investigate the College Board’s practices for that reason. [5] NY Times has reported that this data often ends up in the hands of unscrupulous for-profit companies that use the information to market dubious products and services to families; in some cases, the information may end up in the hands of data brokers. [6]

Some districts now refrain from giving these voluntary surveys to their students or tell them not to answer any of its questions, because this takes considerable time and can add stress to an already pressure-filled situation.

Districts also should be aware that these companies disclose personal data that may be illegal.

Here are some questions parents should ask their children’s school or district ahead of time:

  1. Is any survey or voluntary list of questions going to be asked of their children before the administration of these exams?
  1. If so, can they give you a copy of these questions? Prior parental notification of any such survey is required under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), passed by Congress in 1978.[7]
  1. If any highly sensitive questions are included, such as those involving religious preferences or affiliations, will the school notify parents of their right to opt their children out of the survey ahead of time, as is required under PPRA?
  1. Does the district have a contract with the testing company that prohibits them from selling any of this personal student data, as is required by NY state law as well as student privacy laws in 21 other states?
  1. If not, why not? And can they share a copy of this contract?










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