Illinois Lawmakers Call For Investigation Into Sale Of Student Data

Oct 23, 2019

A group of state lawmakers is calling on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to investigate the sale of student data.

In a letter this month, nine Democrats alleged the College Board — the non-profit organization that administers the SAT and PSAT to students throughout the state — is selling information provided on an accompanying survey. That includes students’ academic interests, GPA and email address.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi from Chicago said the board admitted to the practice during a legislative hearing earlier this year.

“They said that they sell data about our students for 45 cents a kid,” Guzzardi said. “That seems to me to be, on face, a violation of state law.”

The legislators say Illinois’ Student Online Privacy Protection Act (SOPPA), prohibits vendors from selling or renting personal information about students collected in schools. Another law — the Children’s Privacy Protection and Parental Empowerment Act — bars the sale of data about a child under the age of 16 without parental consent.

The College Board maintains the data is not being sold, but rather “licensed” to partners through the Student Search Service — a platform meant to connect students with universities, scholarship opportunities and other resources.

Jerome White, director of media relations for the College Board, confirmed partners pay a rate of 45 cents per student to access the information.

“We re-invest the funds from Search directly into programs and services that support students,” White said via email. “This past year, for example, we provided $129 million in fee waivers and fee reductions.”

White said students are not required to consent to data sharing in order to take the SAT or PSAT and can opt-out any time.

To participate in Student Search, he said, partners must agree not to share student information with third parties, to only use the data for non-commercial purposes and to destroy the information after the agreement expires.

Still, state Sen. Cristina Castro from Elgin said students don’t understand what they’re agreeing to when they release their information.

“The students in this situation are only vaguely made aware that their data will be shared and are not at all made aware that their data will be exchanged for — will be sold, right? And to who?” she said.

Castro said the College Board’s actions are especially concerning because of their $29 million contract with the state, as well as the threat of data breaches.

She said lawmakers will look into closing any potential loopholes allowing for the “licensing” of student information.