Last month, when U.S. News and World Report released its list of best high schools in the country, students, parents and administrators at Lakeridge High School in Oregon were surprised to learn they didn’t make the cut. For the past three years, they’ve been ranked a “silver medal school” from the publication. Students’ test scores were even higher than a rival high school that was ranked.
It turns out the school was excluded because of how the Oregon Department of Education records students’ test scores. When more than 95 percent of students at a school pass state math and reading tests, the state doesn’t record specific scores because doing so might identify students who didn’t pass. This is a policy put in place to avoid violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte: I don’t even.
Can I stop there?
You know that part in Hannibal where the guy eats his own brains? That’s this. This is FERPA eating FERPA. “We’re keeping test scores secret, because if it got out that 98 percent of the people who took the test passed … then … that wouldn’t be secret anymore. And that would be bad … because, secrets … need to be secret."
I would invite you to follow the logic, but let’s face it, we’re beyond that.
Suppose it gets out that 99 percent of all kids in Oregon passed the exam. FERPA applies only to the disclosure of information about identified individuals. How does the percentage lead to the identity of any individual? Jackson Pollock on acid couldn’t connect these dots.
Let’s say it turns out that only two kids in all of Oregon failed the high school proficiency test. Even if you know that you are one of them, so you know there’s only one other kid out there – how does the number lead you to the individual? (Unless the other guy has already told you, in which case the statistic isn’t giving away anything confidential.) If you are some algorithmic prodigy capable of extrapolating from a statistic into the name of the other person – well then, you wouldn’t have failed the Oregon high school proficiency exam, would you?
No court has ever held that the release of a statistic is a violation of FERPA. The only person (inside the Oregon Department of Education or outside of it) who would be able to figure out the identity of an individual test-taker from a statewide data set is someone who already has access to those names anyway.
A state that overthinks FERPA this badly doesn’t deserve to be on anybody’s "best anything” list.