on Data Mining, part 3

Around this time last fall, I shared information on how the state of Iowa collects data on our children. One of the ways is via the personal information parents share with the districts, and the second is through assessments. A third way is via the use of surveys. One such survey, the Iowa Youth Survey, will be given in October to our 6th, 8th and 11th graders. It is conducted by the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Division of Behavioral Health in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning and Statistical Analysis Center, and the Iowa Department of Human Services. Results are analyzed by the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation. While it is not mandatory that districts participate, like many others, ours has chosen to participate.

According to the Iowa Youth Survey website (iowayouthsurvey.iowa.org), the survey is completely anonymous, has been around since 1975, and is used to “collect information about Iowa youth so we can better understand their beliefs, values, and decisions about what makes them feel secure, strong, and safe in their communities, schools, and families. In addition, information is collected about their ideas on alcohol, tobacco, drugs, bullying and harassment, and violence prevention. The information collected will help the state planning agencies, our schools, and local community task forces put together valuable future programming.” Unfortunately, the site does not list what specific past programs came about as a result of this data collection, or how it has directly benefited our individual children or districts.

Recently, it has come to my attention that parents have read the current questions on the 2014 survey this year, and have started to complain. Parents are finding them inappropriate, intrusive, an invasion of privacy, a form of data collection on their child, as well as a waste of precious class time (the survey can take 20-40 minutes). Complaints have even mounted to the point where the districts of Ankeny and ADM, once participants, decided to pull out at the last minute once they discovered that the surveys were not mandatory. Des Moines has also pulled out and Waukee was not even on the list of initial participants.

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that parents have now discovered that the survey asks children as young as ten (10) some very juicy questions on topics to which not all children are exposed  (such as sex, gender identity, drug and alcohol use, suicide, violence and more). New curiosities are being put into our children’s heads as a result of this survey, which may have never been there before, and they will now be sent home to their parents with questions on some surprising topics, answers to which they may not yet be ready to completely understand. Or worse, children may just end up discussing/investigating these topics with their ill-informed and ill-equipped peers, including those whose parents opted them out of the survey. Unfortunately, there is no protocol in place to address those children who answer the at-risk questions (like bullying, drugs, violence or suicide) in the affirmative so that they can get the help they need. That is because the main purpose of the survey is for data collection on our children, and not to provide direct educational, emotional or financial benefit to the individual child. Not only that, as an IT professional I can assure you that no online survey is ever fully anonymous, regardless of the promises from the state, especially in districts as small as ours with district issued laptops. So, why are districts wasting precious classroom time to administer a survey with no proven benefit and a lot of risk? And why, by the way, is the state requiring that it be administered via “passive consent”, which forces the parents to opt out, instead of requiring a more informed signed opt-in, given the nature of the questions?

While I know that we cannot shelter our children from the world forever, not all parents believe that exposing our children to every nasty tidbit it has to offer is a good thing either. One parent said as much in an article she wrote for Iowa RestorEd (http://iowarestored.com/2014/09/iowa-youth-survey-coming-to-your-childs-school-in-october). If you wish to see the list of questions – I will not post due to content – you can find the 2014 survey here: http://www.iowayouthsurvey.iowa.gov/ . Please review so that you can make an informed choice as to whether or not you want your children to participate. If you also feel that no Iowa child should be asked these questions, that the data be sent to the state, or that our teachers be forced to sacrifice precious classroom time to do it, let your school district know that too. Remember, this survey is NOT mandatory, there is no educational benefit to your child by taking this survey and no new or existing district funding is contingent upon participation. I believe the risks to our children by exposing them to these topics via a survey far outweigh any state claim of nebulous “future programming”,  and it is my hope that more districts, including ours, will pull out of it as well in order to protect our kids.

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