Embedded Assessments = Testing All the Time

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ushered in a wave of damaging high-stakes standardized testing.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its emphasis on “innovative assessments” will create, as this 12/1/16 Washington Post article describes, a new threat from embedded assessments.

The New Standardized Testing Craze to Hit Public Schools

A recent piece from FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, asks if it’s Personalized Learning or Continuous Online Testing?

Though couched in humanistic language about “personalization,” such a transformation is leading to even more frequent standardized testing. This narrows and dumbs down instruction to what low-level tests can measure, depresses student engagement, and produces inaccurate indicators of learning.”

Embedded assessments are at the heart of digital competency- (or mastery-) based education (CBE). The BCPS STAT initiative is CBE.  It’s the delivery of education via software. Glitchy flawed test-phase programs like iReady, Middlebury, and Ascend Math — all described below — seem meant to replace the teacher, not provide another tool for the teacher to practice the art of teaching.

When BCPS students and parents are not allowed to see the assessments, how can they  assess where “mastery” of a concept or standard fell short?  If schools are deterring parents from actively participating in their children’s education, there’s a problem.

At a 2016 media event at Greenwood, Dr. Dance discussed embedded assessments — for some of them, instruction time isn’t stopped and students don’t even know they’re being assessed:

Baltimore Sun:  Dallas Dance talks about school assessments

This recent piece by local (and national) journalist and BCPS parent Joanne C. Simpson reveals how embedded assessments are being used in our school system.

{Note: Due to problems downloading the contracts noted below, the actual links are offered at the end of this article; copy/paste the links into a browser.}

The Computer Just Graded My Test, and Gave Me a C

Competency-Based Education (CBE) is a new education fad that emphasizes ongoing online/computer-based assessments and testing. The question is: What percentage of software-delivered lessons and testing will go on at BCPS–and how much will screen time increase–especially in the next year or two as STAT (the laptop initiative) is set to spread to all grades.

Few seem to know that computer-embedded assessments are already being used in BCPS classrooms–for diagnostic, formative and summative (the graded kind) of assessments–a running tally of $12 million in recent spending authorities, and counting.

The following BCPS Board of Education-approved spending authorities for contracts are mostly aligned with STAT. This information has been pulled together, and now seems a good time for parents to know what’s around–and to determine how well these offerings work so far.

One program is iReady/Curriculum Associates, which is used primarily in elementary grades. Read more about problems with iReady here.

BCPS just tripled the spending authority to $1.2 million. Teachers I’ve talked to at BCPS are finding lots of problems, such as iReady not really differentiating learning for each student as advertised. Other feedback? Contract spending authority info here.

Another is Kahoot, a game-based model that ranks students against each other on screens at the front of the room, yet has no evidence of positive learning outcomes. (It also rewards speed above all.)

Others are Padlet and Quizlet (formative, for feedback). And the testing–and grading–of students is already happening via screens. The computer-based testing company Escoreny, as well as Pearson software, are being used for end-of-unit tests and other graded assessments. Some info on Escoreny and its recently expanded $1.3 million spending authority to create constant “end-of-unit” assessments: http://escoreny.org

Overall, we can determine whether these programs seem effective, or not, and let teachers and administrators know. I’ve heard from students and others that some online math assessments have incorrectly graded or processed answers, lowering students’ grades. “Estimation” answers, for example, are unrealistic. The students beat the program to a right answer, but are marked wrong. (So teachers need to go back and regrade by hand.)

These are also costly programs, hitting multi-millions in spending authorities and related software licensing fees and updates, records show. For example, Middlebury Interactive, the flawed Spanish language computer-based program, now has a $7 million, decade-long contract spending authority with BCPS. That’s for an in-development software program. How well is that going for elementary school students?

Even more familiar to elementary students and parents out there: DreamBox, with its required hour per week and push “reminders.” DreamBox collects “50,000 behavioral data points per hour per student.” What are behavioral data points? 50,000?

How much is DreamBox costing us in the long run? And what about all that student data mined by a for-profit company? DreamBox Learning’s BCPS spending authority nearly doubled recently for just another 9 months, $636,000 to $1.2 million.

(In terms of math software, other parents probably know Ascend Math for middle schools. Has that been a help? Hope so, as it’s another million-dollar software program so far.

Ascend Math, ~$480,000 expanded to $1.3 million for three more years, plus other agreements.) Contract spending authority here.

In the end, there are likely benefits to some of these offerings. And the practice of skills is one. Another modality is fine, and tech can offer some new approaches for teachers to evaluate, and for students to self-assess. Yet is it worth the millions of dollars? How much will this approach expand here? (I’m not sure BCPS staff is being told what has been outlined in various district plans.)

A primary concern for me as a parent: Are our students just working out the bugs in for-profit software? Whetstones for flawed products, as happened in Detroit (a lot of similarities, including the ‘building the plane as we fly it’ weirdness): http://www.aclumich.org/article/guyette-how-eaas-buzz-program-exploited-detroits-most-vulnerable-kids

One way or the other, it seems these computer-embedded tests and assessments portend more screen time for students, and less direct time with teachers.

Oh, and can we please stop flying a half-built plane with our children on board?

Contract Spending Authorities:





DreamBox Learning


Ascend Math 



#PositiveStories and the #GoodNewsAmbassadors @BCPSSTAT

Is BCPS a business worthy of advertising or an educational institution for Baltimore County’s 112,000 students?

Is it a mechanism for marketing or a place for kids to learn?

Perhaps it’s a futuristic animatronic museum in which our vendors and other school systems from across the country can come see a glimpse into the future.*  To see where humanity is headed, to see the future of America, where, as Superintendent Dance has said, “you can come into a classroom and not even be able to find the teacher.”  Perhaps that’s precisely why our vendors and other school leaders come?  To enthusiastically hashtag -#foundher – when finding one – like a game of “Where’s Waldo?” in a BCPS classroom?

Whatever the reason, this certainly appears to make for an amazing advertising opportunity for our vendors.

#buyfromustoo? #freeadvertising?

It’s no secret that Baltimore County has become the hub of school innovation for the country. Maybe even for the world, according to our Hewlett Packard representative.  Does all of this hashtagging help with the momentum of leading the way?  After all, BCPS and the hashtag did become fast friends under the leadership of BCPS’ current administration.

Walk the Walk Award – DILA 2014 Winner: “Dr. Dance is constantly tweeting to BCPS stakeholders…”

Why not?  As a school system, we have not only embraced technology, but we are rocketing out to space on it.  But what is the impetus behind the advertising?  Who does it serve?  And is it safe?

Some parents on, coincidentally, social media, as well as at BCPS Board of Education meetings, have raised concerns; they do not think that it’s safe. In fact, some think that it’s downright dangerous.  Yet the response to these sentiments has been a familiar-sounding one.  The same response heard time and time again about any hiccups with STAT, Baltimore County’s 1:1 digital initiative: the problem boils down to the professional development of the teachers, they say.

And yet, BCPS’ own Department of Communications and Community Outreach seems to have opened the Wild West of Twitter in the first place. Why is it, then, that the teachers are being pointed to as the ones lacking in social media etiquette? 

BCPS’ Chief Communications Officer, Mychael Dickerson, certainly gave the greenlight. In fact, he suggested it in this June 2015 article, stating:

“We simply asked people to send photos of them wearing Team BCPS Blue and to go to social media to post their pictures or to let us know how they were celebrating Team BCPS Day.  To our surprise we received hundreds of pictures and thousands of tweets and Facebook posts. We also held a competition recognizing the youngest Team BCPS member (mothers-to-be were sending in photos pointing at their stomachs indicating they had the youngest Team BCPS member), the oldest Team BCPS member, the largest Team BCPS group etc., the most spirited, etc.  The pictures and tweets came from all over the world and from all sorts of people to include: students; parents; families; staff members; businesses; religious groups; senior citizen homes and many other organizations and stakeholders. It was an incredible launch and this year was even more successful.”

With almost 60K followers and 10.4K tweets, @BaltCoPS has had a very busy 5 1/2 years since the account opened in April 2011. Discovery Education, one of STAT’s main vendors, which has been on Twitter since 2007, does pretty well with 314K followers and a whopping 25K tweets!

In fact, Discovery Education’s very own National Director of Educational Partnerships – who, incidentally, is also on the Board of Directors for the Education Foundation for Baltimore County Public Schools – even tweeted about us a month ago, stating: “Awesome students share our thoughts-BCPS STAT Initiative. ‘More fun way to learn’ #bcpsstat”

In 2014, BCPS’ Department of Innovation (under their previous name) even gave Hewlett Packard a shout-out! And a BCPS principal took some time to thank Daly Computers (Daly Computers contract)! Meanwhile, teachers tweet about their students being on DreamBox, yet another BCPS vendor.

All of this tweeting and none of it proven to assist with our students’ educational outcomes.

So, whom is this tweeting all about then? Who does it help?  And what is it actually for?  Is this “edu-tising” good for our students or does it serve some higher motive?

Some of us are still waiting for the “how much screen time are the students getting question to be answered.  All of this tweeting and still no answer?


*From the 11/7/16 BCPS E-Newsletter:

“Dear Team BCPS: This week, BCPS hosted representatives from around the nation who visited our Lighthouse and Passport schools to see firsthand how we are implementing our Theory of Action.

Our visitors were in Baltimore attending the 2016 League of Innovative Schools’ Fall Conference. I am very proud of our students, teachers, and administrators who welcomed these special guests into our classrooms to show them outstanding teaching and learning. I also extend my thanks to all members of Team BCPS who were involved in the planning and implementation of these visits. Our visitors were impressed, and it was truly an amazing experience for all of us.”

Advice to BCPS Parents from “Wrench in the Gears” and Why iNACOL Loves ESSA

Recent days have seen an uptick in conversations about online Competency-based Education or CBE, the scary wave of educational transformation rapidly sweeping over the country.  BCPS students, teachers, and parents are at the front edge of this wave with STAT. 

Here is a post by a parent of a public school student who advocates for doing much more than just opting out of end-of-the-year tests.

From Wrench in the Gears (A Skeptical Parent’s Thoughts on Digital Curriculum):  Stop! Don’t opt out. Read this first.

National education expert Diane Ravitch recently linked to the blog.

One of the main “benefits” of our 1:1 initiative, according to Dr. Dance, is that it would allow children to be assessed anytime, anywhere. We’re spending millions on contracts to use and sometimes develop computer-based assessments at the end of every unit.

If you have any doubts about whether the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is ripe for computer-based personalized learning assessments, iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a major trade group, and its partners love ESSA.  Review the slides from this recent webinar hosted by the iNACOL president, iNACOL’s VP for Federal and State Policy, and KnowledgeWorks’ Senior Director of National Policy and you’ll begin to understand why.

During a keynote presentation at iNACOL’s annual meeting, our own Superintendent said:

“The other conversion was this whole idea around the assessment conversion.  There’s a lot of talk around the country about that right now.  Let’s get away from this idea of paper and pencil, you know, multiple-choice assessments.  How do we assess our students without even stopping class, space and time to do that?  Great teachers do this all the time with formative assessments.  But, we also know, in order to personalize learning for young people, we should be able to assess students at any moment, to figure out what level they’re on, what standards they’ve mastered, so they can move along the continuum as [sic] appropriately.”

Watch here. Go to minute 33.

Read, share these links, ask questions, and follow the suggestions from “Wrench in the Gears” that already apply to those of us in BCPS:

~ If your school offers a device for home use, decline to sign the waiver for it and/or pay the fee.

What happens if you don’t sign the waiver for middle and high school?  BCPS needs to make that clear.  We also have elementary students using a 1:1 (that means their own) device at school in first grade!   Many parents are totally unaware how much time students are spending with it, or what they are doing.  Turns out, BCPS leadership doesn’t know how much time students are spending on it either (at approximately 1:00, we hear that there’s “very limited research” on safe screentime in an educational context)!

~ Refuse to allow your child’s behavioral or social-emotional data to be entered into third-party applications. (e.g. Class Dojo)

Ask questions about all the third-party applications being used in BCPS.  Class Dojo tracks behavior.  Check out whether Common Sense Media’s privacy evaluation team has rated the applications. Subscribe to the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy’s blog and check out their back-to-school advice.

~ Refuse in-class social networking programs (e.g. EdModo).

We’re curious about how this is being used in BCPS classrooms and what other social networking software is used.  In general, parents should be very cautious about introducing social media to children – BCPS’ own advice for parents says so.  Parents should have a say about when and how their children are introduced to social networking for school.

~ Set a screentime maximum per day/per week for your child.

Research has shown that when children are spending more than a half-hour per day on the computer, learning outcomes are worse.  The evaluation of STAT thus far has NO data on learning outcomes.  Read the JHU STAT reports here. Ask for homework alternatives that do not require use of a computer.  Ask for textbooks so that reading can be done without more time on the computer.

~ Opt young children out of in-school screentime altogether and request paper and pencil assignments and reading from print books (not e-books).

Parents Across America (PAA), a grassroots, non-partisan organization, has a number of useful linksHere are some questions to ask your school.

~ Begin educating parents about the difference between “personalized learning” modules that rely on mining PII (personally-identifiable information) to function properly and technology that empowers children to create and share their own content.

Dreambox and iReady, so-called “personalized learning” software, are being used in BCPS.  Neither empowers children to create their own content.  See this link on iReady, and this one; this link concerns Dreambox.  Look in BCPSone.  Ask your kids.  Ask your teachers and principals.  What else are they using?  Log in at home with your child if you can and check it out – if you don’t have access to a computer at home, ask your school to show you the programs in action.  You have a right to know what your child is doing at school.

~ Insist that school budgets prioritize human instruction and that hybrid/blended learning not be used as a backdoor way to increase class size or push online classes.

The County Auditor’s report of 2015 notes that class sizes have increased with the implementation STAT.  STAT teachers used to be classroom teachers – they are no longer, instead focusing on professional development.  Hybrid and blended learning have a host of definitions, but here are some examples of how it is playing out so far for kids as young as first grade in BCPS. 



As Dr. Dance says:

“Most of the nation’s classrooms have about 30 students in them. How can a teacher personalize and customize unless you leverage technology?  In BCPS we have five-year journey to go 1:1 in grades K-12 to where every single kid has a device.” 

But wait.  Respected education policy center NEPC at the University of Colorado says:

“Smaller classes are particularly effective at raising achievement levels of low-income and minority children.”

Playing Dice with Our Children and Our Tax Dollars

Yesterday, Baltimore County Public Schools hosted the TEAM BCPS STAT Partner/Stakeholder meeting. From the title, one might think this would include teachers, parents, and community members who have an interest in the progress of STAT and the success of local schools. But think again, as this was anything but.

“Stakeholder” has many definitions. The most common is “a member of an organization or system that has an interest in its success.” However, the word has its origin from a gambling term, meaning “an independent party with whom wagers are deposited.” Perhaps this is the more apt definition to use here, as the “stakeholders” involved were various STAT administrators (including Dallas Dance, Ryan Imbriale, and Verletta White) along with representatives from several corporate entities, including Engrade, Discovery Education, and Knovation, who obviously all have some skin in the game with BCPS.

For just one example, consider Knovation (out of Cincinatti, Ohio, whose title is an unholy grammatical Frankenstein of the words “know” and “innovation), a company that provides digital content. The company is run by Steve Nordmark and Randy Wilhelm, who are not educators but corporate consultants in the educational technology industry, who also have their fingers in the pies of educational publishing and the software industry association. Their mission statement reads “Together, we ignite the hope of knowing in every child.” A more meaningless statement is impossible; maybe they should have stuck with the usual “together, we’re making the world a better place” cliché.

Are Mr. Nordmark and Mr. Wilhelm our stakeholders? Are corporations? Perhaps our bets have been placed with them, as they are happy to take some of the cash that the STAT initiative has to offer.

This “stakeholder” meeting occurred the same day that the Baltimore County council was set to ask questions of Dallas Dance and BCPS officials in regards to the FY2017 audit report of the Baltimore County Public Schools Operating Budget, which was released on May 16. The report, which is available here, identified several areas of concern, specifically about the rise of spending for STAT while other areas such as salaries, maintenance, transportation, and student well-being have been neglected.

Unfortunately, the Baltimore County council members (Tom Quirk, David Marks, Vicki Almond, Wade Kach, Cathy Bevins, and Todd Crandell) pitched only softballs at Dance, giving the audit report and any concerns about STAT a Baltimore County old boy pat-on-the-back and pass. But that is a story for another time.

A favorite metaphor of Dr. Dance and the BCPS leadership is that BCPS is “building the plane as we fly it.” To extend this metaphor…the county audit report tells us that there are numerous and profound safety, maintenance, and quality concerns about that BCPS plane. But Dallas Dance, Ryan Imbriale, Verletta White, and their STAT “stakeholders” are more than ready to load that plane with our children and send it out over the ocean, no matter the consequences. The metaphor must close here, as education is not truly an airplane, but the consequences of the inaction and arrogance of the BCPS leadership will be no less dire.

Moving to Pennsylvania for the Schools

May 15, 2016

To Whom It May Concern:

At the start of 2016, my husband and I made the decision to move our family to southern Pennsylvania for several reasons; one of the main being to leave Baltimore County Public Schools.  This letter serves to inform Baltimore County Board of Education and other county officials of the rationale behind our decision.  This is not a specific criticism of our particular school, which I will not name, but rather concerns we have with BCPS systemically.  With one child in kindergarten and one entering in 2016-17, we have many more years in a school system and do not feel as if Baltimore County is going to give our children the foundation that we feel is important to their educations.

We began kindergarten in the fall of 2015 with cautious optimism despite being warned by a former BCPS employee that we would not be happy with our zoned school.   We were met the first week of school with a list of playground rules.  I understand the need for rules and the need to make sure the children understand the rules.  But when the first rule for kindergarten recess is “No running on the playground”, I begin to have a problem.  Five and six year-old children are expected to focus on academics 6 hours a day with a 20-minute recess, and they are not allowed to run?  I spent time touring and interviewing the elementary schools in Southern York County School District.  Each school representative I spoke with was stunned to learn that my kindergarten student was not permitted to run on the playground during recess.

An excerpt taken from “The Crucial Role in Recess in School”, published by The American Academy of Pediatrics, stresses the importance of unstructured play in the development of children; “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines recess as ‘regularly scheduled periods within the elementary school day for unstructured physical activity and play.’1 The literature examining the global benefits of recess for a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social well-being has recently been reviewed.2 Yet, recent surveys and studies have indicated a trend toward reducing recess to accommodate additional time for academic subjects in addition to its withdrawal for punitive or behavioral reasons.”

Our children will begin the 2016-17 school year in Southern York County School District where they will have recess two times a day, with regular opportunities to earn additional recess as a class.  They will also participate in a district wide “Walking Wednesday” program where all teachers, students and administrators in the district walk the school campuses as an additional opportunity to get outside.  Studies have shown that more opportunities for recess and outside time actually helps children refocus, and there is data to support higher test scores.

Our next concern is the use of technology in BCPS.  This year, my son has not had a tablet and has not participated in the “personalized learning” of which our superintendent is so fond.  My husband and I have some serious concerns regarding the use of technology in the classroom, including decreased interaction between students and teachers, lack of traditional and proven teaching methods and safety of the students-both online and physically.  There is no data to support the use of technology as Superintendent Dance envisions it in BCPS classrooms is an effective teaching tool, and yet BCPS is rolling out the use of personal devices throughout the entire county, without having all security measures in place or even knowing all the possible risks.  There are too many studies to cite here directly but I encourage you to visit


to see studies on “How Screentime is Affecting Kids’ Moods and Attitudes”, “The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child” and how note-taking is a more effective learning tool than technology.  If you take the time to read any of these articles, you will understand the concerns that parents of young children have regarding one-to-one technology in the classroom.   There has been no reassurance or proof that our children’s identities will be secure with these online learning programs proposed by Mr. Dance.  In fact, a recent article stated that ” ‘75% of schools don’t tell parents that kids’ data is shared’ according to Cheri Kiessecker.” (edworkforce.house.gov).  It should be noted that my husband and I are not alone in these concerns.  There are many parents in Baltimore County who share our concerns and do not want our children learning from a computer instead of a teacher.

The next area of concern we have is the Common Core curriculum and PARCC testing.  Pennsylvania does not participate in Common Core.  The school districts follow a curriculum laid out by the state.  There is the Pennsylvania State Assessment (PSA) as a means of measuring student achievement.  The PSA, however does not cause the high levels of stress and anxiety in students and teachers that PARCC testing seems to.  And taking the PSA is not a requirement for graduation.

Finally, Pennsylvania schools are funded differently than Maryland schools.  We will pay a “school tax” when we move and each year thereafter as long as we reside in the state.  And that’s okay with us.  Because of the school tax, Pennsylvania schools are better funded.  We received our kindergarten supply list recently.  The comparison between our new school and our current school is not only astonishing, but very telling of the use of funds allocated to the schools.  In PA, we have 6 items on the list with one optional item.  In BCPS, there are 35 items and 10 optional items.  The kindergarten supply list is just one example of the funding differences between the two school districts.

My husband and I thought it was important that we share our concerns about BCPS to those who can help facilitate a change.  We are Baltimore County taxpayers who are in the position to purchase a house and we have chosen to take our purchase and our money to another state.  We may only be one family, but most of the houses we looked at during our search were owned by someone who was commuting to MD.  I know of other BCPS families who are considering a similar move for the same reasons cited here.

Thank you for your time.


Noelle S. Wilson

STAT and Security

Baltimore County Public schools Policy 5230 will be discussed at the May 10, 2016 Board of Education meeting.  You can read an excerpt below and you can read the entire BCPS Policy 5230 here.

“Statement of Issues or Questions Addressed

In accordance with Board of Education Policy and Superintendent’s Rule 8130, Policy 5230 is scheduled for review in school year 2015–2016. Policy 5230 outlines the Board’s responsibility to recognize the rights of parents to review and inspect their child’s student records and to maintain student records in accordance with federal and state law and regulations. The Policy Review Committee recommended that the policy be revised to: (1) recognize the right of parents to verify the deletion of their child’s student data; and (2) conform with the Policy Review Committee’s editing conventions.”

These comments about Policy 5230 are written by Russ Kuehn, parent and stakeholder in Baltimore County Public Schools.

1. There are a large number for referenced documents, having read or reviewed most of them, I believe BCPS needs to provide an actual document that outlines all the pieces of the privacy policy/program they intend to follow. This needs to include discussions around data security and steps that will be taken to provide that security.

2. After reviewing the documents, I am still unable to determine exactly what access 3rd party companies have to children’s data. What are the specific safeguards that BCPS is putting in place to make sure that these companies are responsible and have a fiduciary duty to do the “right thing” regarding breach issues and data loss.

3. Third party providers need to be restricted to not collect, disseminate or use information regarding children outside of providing direct access to their products. The tracking and “learning profile” they will naturally record, are property of the student, the parents, and to the extent required to provide an education, BCPS.

4. The federal government has the privacy act that governs how data is handled regarding individuals. Each federal system is accompanied by a systems of record notice (SORN) whereby citizens can review and comment during the process. Citizens also have the ability to challenge and correct erroneous information in their records. This act is not applicable to states. This is unfortunate, putting states and localities on their own to work their way through providing privacy that is appropriate and citizen centered. I do not know enough about Maryland State Laws to understand what is and is not allowable, but it should be VERY clear in the BCPS document.

Privacy is something that people are only starting to understand, and technology is clearly bringing these concerns to the forefront. I would suggest that BCPS focus on how to protect their records and really make sure that contractually NO THIRD PARTY PROVIDERS have any rights to data gleaned from doing business with our school system.

It is clear that everyone involved is focused on providing a high quality education to our children. I applaud that goal, and will work to support it. I believe the pace of change within BCPS has picked up significantly with the introduction of BCPS-STAT and with that, the risk of data loss or misuse has also increased. We need to be mindful and protect this information while striving to integrate technology further into the classroom.

Thank you for your time.

Russ Kuehn

Please consider contacting the Board of Education (and other County and State officials) to express your opinions about how important this issue is to the families of Baltimore County.


Privacy Issues Surrounding 1:1 Devices (aka STAT)

Here is a comment sent to the blog about the privacy issues surrounding 1:1 devices.

In my opinion the worst aspect of 1:1 devices is the student data mining. It appears third parties & software companies collect, store, analyze, and probably share, data about our children gleaned from their use of 1:1 devices. Why aren’t you all discussing this? A couple articles to consider below. 

Politico – The big biz of spying on little kids
“Students shed streams of data about their academic progress, work habits, learning styles and personal interests as they navigate educational websites. All that data has potential commercial value: It could be used to target ads to the kids and their families, OR TO BUILD PROFILES ON THEM THAT MIGHT BE OF INTEREST TO EMPLOYERS, MILITARY RECRUITERS OR COLLEGE ADMISSIONS OFFICERS.” Emphasis added

New York Times – Tools for Tailored Learning May Expose Students Personal Details
“These apps and sites represent a small but growing segment of the overall market for prekindergarten through 12th-grade education software. But already, the data collection has raised concerns among lawmakers and parents about whether school districts are equipped to monitor and manage how schools and online education services safeguard students’ personal details.”
“As schools themselves increasingly analyze socioeconomic, behavioral and emotional data about students, some parents are more troubled by the possibility that the data could be used in making decisions that are damaging to their children, POTENTIALLY AFFECTING THEIR COLLEGE OR JOB PROSPECTS.” Emphasis added

American Thinker – Common Core: Who’s Watching the Kids?

  •  “Children may be playing interactive educational games, doing interactive assignments, and writing stories that can be easily shared with the teacher and other students. These seemingly harmless activities are in fact being used to collect personal and private information without the parents’ consent or knowledge.”
  • “Could that educational game be used to measure your child’s mental state? Could those interactive assignments involve morally ambiguous questions that can be used to create a psychological profile of your child? Could that shared story be used to predict violent behavior?”
  • “Maybe you think ‘predicting future violent behavior’ is a step in the right direction. What if your kid is flagged because he did something that most of us did growing up, such as draw a picture of a gun?”
  • “So who will be watching and analyzing our kids?”
  • “This data will be stored forever, and parents will have very, very limited access to it, if any at all.”  Emphasis added


Letter to County Council Regarding S.T.A.T.

Dear County Council Members,

I am writing on behalf of concerned BCPS parents regarding the newest rounds of BCPS policy involving STAT (especially the leasing of 1:1 devices, the amount of assessment and instructional time spent on devices, and data privacy).

Today, I was listening to a radio broadcast of the hearing involving Governor Rick Snyder from MI and the Flint MI water crisis. One thing is very clear: politicians chose to ignore the warnings of the community who knew something was wrong with their water, and these politicians put money over human health and well-being. While there was data proving problems with the new water source existed, the data were ignored. Meanwhile, decisions to switch water sources were made with NO data proving that switching the water sources was a good thing.

The flood of technology-driven policies being launched in Baltimore County Schools are like lead-based water. BCPS is switching our water from one source to another (water being the parallel for learning). Certain parallels should be made clear to you:

  • We, the community, know there is something fundamentally wrong with the increased push toward technology-based instruction and assessments in lieu of human and collaborative interactions. Yet, our voices are being ignored.
  • There is no data to suggest that moving away from existing models of instruction and assessment and toward (so-called) “personalized” device driven instruction is any better for children.
  • There is ample evidence suggesting that the switch toward more online providers for teaching and learning are driven by economics (saving money for the district and profits for the companies who lobbied for the policies) thus outing money over human health and well-being. The people directly involved with education technology industry and policy are quick to tell you that every child “needs” 21st century skills, that they “need” to be educated more and more via online methods. Yet, they have NO evidence to show this is in fact “necessary.” So ask….WHY? It’s on YOU, the BCPS policy makers to pause and ask yourselves this question.

Because here’s what we DO know. Online device-driven instruction leads to:

  • Increased risks of obesity-increased seat time
  • Reduction of opportunities to engage with multiple learning styles: kinesthetic, social, verbal, environmental…all reduced to visual screen time.
  • Loss of socialization and development of social cuing.

“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” said Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher with UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, in a news release. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”


Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions, according to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles.


  • Damage to eyes, hands/wrists, and neck.

“Children can develop pain in their fingers and wrists, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (the long-term consequences of which are unknown), and neck and back pain from being slumped over their phones, tablets and computers.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/?referer=

  • Loss of data privacy = online platforms delivered to third-party organizations who track every response and behavior your child makes in their learning process. Every bit tracked and monitored and managed. My child is not an unwilling consumer forced to share private information simply because a private company (like Pearson or KIPP) has been made an LEA.
  • Increases ADHD-like symptoms. “Children who are heavy users of electronics may become adept at multitasking, but they can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/?referer=
  • An adrenaline-driven mentality to learning (like addiction). As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome.These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention…excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties


So please, as you decide to vote to spend more monies on technology (simply because it seems like the “in” thing or “cool” thing to do because well, “everybody’s doing it”) consider this: Years from now, after learning has been destroyed for a generation of our children because of the lack of thought you put into the decisions you are making for them today, you may find yourselves taking the stand, like Rick Snyder. We, the community will be demanding from you an account for your ignorance and negligence in the face of facts, concerns, and plain common sense which we are presenting to you today. If we learn from anything from history its how not to repeat the same mistakes. Don’t destroy a generation of our children for the sake of politics and profits. Be better than that. Hit the pause button and learn the facts before making decisions that will lead to irreparable harm for our children and our public schools.

Morna McDermott McNulty

BCPS parent and Professor of Education, Towson University

Security and Privacy Challenges Relating to School Provided Electronic Devices

This essay is written by a Baltimore County parent and computer engineer.

Security and Privacy Challenges Relating to School Provided Electronic Devices


Today’s digitalization of the school environment seems to be evolving at a rapid pace. As is the case with sweeping change in any environment, rapid adoption of digital learning has not taken into consideration many of consequences related to its implementation. In addition to the lack of consideration relating to the effects of digital learning, there also appears to be a lack of genuine communication to those potentially exposed to the risks introduced in a digital learning environment. The information presented here is intended to reveal some of the very important risks associated with a continued migration towards a purely digital learning environment. The information presented will largely focus on how the introduction of technology can create substantial security and privacy risks for the public at large.

School System Provided Technology

School provided digital technology intended to be used at home, seemingly harmless on the surface,   introduces a host of security and privacy issues once introduced in the home. Consider for a moment why organizations implement security policies that disallow ALL outside devices from connecting to a network. A similar approach must be considered on the home family network.  The challenge, however, is that a typical family does not possess the technology skills of a sophisticated IT staff which is tasked to protect organizational networks and intellectual property. This is not intended to imply that schools are deliberately causing harm. Digital devices in and of themselves are not the primary concern as it relates to security and privacy. The primary exposure to students and families comes from the software loaded on these devices and the websites accessed by devices which cannot be properly vetted to ensure total and absolute protection of students and families. Additionally, the people and organizations responsible for making decisions on the types of applications and application content gathering characteristics of devices must be contemplated.

It is important to stress that it is not possible to fully vet any device provided by a school. Even if it were possible, that possibility is a fleeting moment in time that is lost the moment an application is updated or those in charge decide to modify the behavior of a device.

Potential Points of Exposure

One must carefully consider what is at risk once an untrusted device is connected to a home network and students access school system mandated online resources. The following partial list of items aims to make the public aware of the type of information and network access that is readily available to a device connected to a home network.

  • Device names of all connected devices on a home network
  • Manufacturers of all connected devices on a home network
  • Local network addressing scheme of home network
  • Access to home photos and videos stored on a shared device
  • Access to music and movies stored on a shared device
  • Eavesdropping – listening through microphone, watching though device camera
  • Network share access can be used to plant malicious software
  • Names of various networks in your home
  • Time when certain devices are used within your home (example, a user turns on a computer, a user arrives home and mobile phone connects to a network)
  • Geolocate (approximate the geographical location)  the device at any time.

Additionally, students may be forced to use certain web based learning applications which adds an additional layer of privacy concern for the student. Some of the privacy issues relating to third party content providers are:

  • Student identity is transmitted to third parties
  • Data relating to student performance is gathered and stored by third parties
  • Third parties track patterns of student online behavior while in the home

Based on this partial list of security and privacy risks, a rogue school district, software developer, supplier or administrator can extrapolate the following: (these are just a few examples, the risks are considerably higher than what is presented here).

  • Track a user’s geographical location each time the device connects to the internet
  • Track when people (parents, friends, siblings, etc) leave the home and return home
  • Listen to and watch activity within the home (for those who find this hard to conceive there are well documented cases of school districts watching students through the camera of school provided devices while in their home)
  • Monitor and track student activity within school provided applications. This type of data, when collected, can be used by school districts and third party content providers to build and store profiles of usage patterns and performance metrics down to the student level. This is to say, students’ identities are directly tied to a trove of information gathered over the course of their digital education. School systems can (and have) used this type of information to harm individuals it sees as problematic.

Legal Implications

School systems are generally aware of the legal implications stemming from the sharing of personally identifiable information. Often times, a school district may mandate that its contracted third party application providers sign legal agreements which outline certain standards that must be met when handling student personally identifiable information. These agreements may be presented to stakeholders as evidence of the efforts put forth to protect students. While this is a step in the right direction, it does little to actually protect student information from getting into the wrong hands. One just needs to look at the countless data breaches that have occurred already (most of which were protected by similar legal agreements).

If school administrators believed that sensitive data could be protected, they would not be compelled to purchases insurance to protect against data breaches. This seems to indicate that they do believe that breaches are inevitable.

Recommendations and Possible Solutions

From a purely technical point of view, school provided digital devices must at all times be treated as an untrusted device given the impossibility of that device ever being fully vetted and trusted. Educational applications stored on the device are compiled computer programs (not human readable) which make it virtually impossible to know what the application is actually collecting and doing.  Furthermore, web based learning applications continue to store vast amounts of information relating to students. When coupled, locally resident computer programs can work with web based applications to transmit information to third parties. This presents a very real and serious danger that goes far beyond what most would find acceptable.

A significant reduction in student and family privacy risk can be achieved by approaching the digital learning concept from a point of view that puts the protection of students and families first while achieving the same results digital learning aims for.

  • School systems should avoid deploying digital devices intended to be used at home since the school system itself cannot guarantee the protection of student and family privacy once a device has entered the home. The legal implications alone can devastate a school system and waste considerable time and resources defending privacy concerns.
  • School systems should not, ever, share the identities of any student with third party application and content providers. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. School systems should be solely responsible for storing student data. Schools should not be in the business of endorsing third party applications which collect and store student data.
  • School systems should be tasked (mandated) to architect systems that buffer students from third party content providers. This prevents third parties from gathering information such as student identity, performance and individual patterns.
  • School districts shall not impose on students and families nor pressure them into connecting school provided devices to a home network. School districts that insist on such a device should also provide connectivity options other than relying on the family home network. The only currently viable option is to provide devices with cellular data connections through a mobile network operator. This would add a monthly cost of roughly $20 per device to the school system which is not a good use of funds intended for education.


In closing, it is imperative that students and their families are made aware of the technical implications of bringing school provided devices home and the use of educational applications. There are already well documented cases of overreaching school districts and administrators breaching the privacy of citizens. The concepts presented here are intended to prevent such violations while continuing to give school districts access to digital technology. The added benefit is that the concepts presented in this document can save school systems across the country billions of dollars in hardware and maintenance expenses by simply moving applications outside of the home and allowing students to access applications from devices they already own and trust.  These applications, however, should be protected such that students are not directly accessing third party resources as part of a curriculum, especially when application developers have a vested interest in collecting and storing student data. School systems have a moral and civic obligation to protect the privacy of its students. Unfortunately, given the seeming rush to implement digital environments by school systems across the country, important issues such as the privacy are largely overlooked.

Parents and stakeholders should take it upon themselves to ensure that schools are adequately addressing privacy and security issues.  Parents should get familiar with the legal implications of adopting digital learning. Specifically, parents should get familiar with:

  • Any agreements relating to the use of technology in learning and the rights students and parents may be sacrificing without their direct knowledge
  • Software license agreements students and parents are directly accepting or indirectly accepting through a blanket agreement with a school

Lastly, the framework and concepts  presented in this document are not intended to imply any wrongdoing by a school district but rather to be used as a framework that achieves the mutually beneficial goals of protecting students (and their families) while allowing school districts to make use of technology in a responsible way.



It is becoming ever clearer that personalized learning on 1:1 devices is an experiment. While some may not like the idea of children being part of experiments under any circumstances, when done well, it is a way to study what interventions work and which ones don’t. But, there are core principles and ethics that should underlie any such initiative.

Here’s what a 4th grade teacher in Maine had to say: “When researchers in university settings conduct studies involving “human subjects,” there are two categories of people that always get extra special protection: pregnant women and children. Even if the research involves minimal to no risk to the child (a survey, for example), an Institutional Review Board must certify that the investigators meet certain criteria, including obtaining permission from children’s parents or guardians.  Competency-based and personalized learning experiments, which typically rely heavily on digital and online learning, involve a number of potential risks – including those that are health-related (impact on vision, over-exposure to wifi radiation), academic, and social/emotional (what happens when students spend less time with teachers and more time with devices?).”

Read that 4th grade teacher, Emily Talmage’s most recent article,  Parents Beware.

Here in Baltimore, we need only look at the evaluation of the STAT experiment being conducted by JHU.  We must wonder why it is that it is not clearly labeled an experiment since we do not know what the academic outcomes will be.  The logic model is being used to evaluate the STAT experiment and it is only looking at qualitative data for the first two years.  The stated measurable outcomes are described in this way: “The study demonstrated evidence of professional development effects on measurable outcomes, including classroom environment, teacher practice, digital content, student engagement, and 21st century skills.”  Here is the link to the “measurable outcomes” as stated by BCPS.

It is not until the third year that the logic model looks at quantitative data – academic results.  And where are the safety concerns?  Where is the potential risk to children being studied?  That is not included.  Where is the logic, again?

We do not believe 21st century is an adjective and here is  Alfie Kohn’s take on the term “ 21st century learning“.