Jury rules activist cannot have access to test scores of anonymous students

TEXAS — A six-year-old lawsuit against the DallasIndependent School District yielded a verdict April 1 when a Dallas County juryruled against an education activist who sought access to the standardized testscores of anonymous, randomly selected students so that he could link them toindividual teachers in an effort to rate the quality of districtteachers.The jury issued a two-part verdict, saying the school recordsRussell Fish requested in 1997 did not contain information that directlyidentified individual students. The jury also decided, however, that theinformation could be traced to individual students through other publiclyavailable information, and therefore could not be disclosed because of theFamily Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that allows the U.S.Department of Education to fine schools that release student educationalrecords.Fish plans to ask for a mistrial because he believes the verdictis contradictory. Fish said the decision says he is entitled to the records andhe is not entitled to the records at the same time. He is confident that JudgeRobert Frost will declare a mistrial, but if that is unsuccessful at the triallevel, Fish plans to file an appeal.“There is no way to have whatis a logically inconsistent verdict stand. It’s got to go one way oranother,” Fish said.Fish filed his request with the DISD sevenyears ago under the Texas Public Information Act. He said he wanted to reviewstudents’ scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and use the data tocreate a Web site that would evaluate teacher performance in the schooldistrict. He said he did not intend to use the information to connect individualstudents to their respective test scores.The DISD refused to hand overthe information, claiming that doing so would violate students’ rights toprivacy under FERPA. Fish filed suit in 1998, beginning several years of legaltwists and turns that do not yet appear to be over. Although the juryagreed with DISD, Fish doubts the district was motivated to deny his requestbecause it was worried about violating FERPA. He said the district is seeking toprevent parents from knowing how poorly some of the district’s teachersare performing. “If you’re a parent and you discover thatyour school is being used as dumping grounds for the sorry teachers,you’re going to be raising holy hell and it’s not just going to beyou — it’s going to be you and 50 of your friends,” Fishsaid.Fish plans on filing his motion for a mistrial in the next fewweeks.