Kansas legislators question education department’s plan for student data collection system

Department of Education eager to modernize assembly, analysis of information

By: - November 15, 2023 5:44 pm
Kathi Grossenbacher, director of information technology at the Kansas State Department of Education, said the agency would implement a more sophisticated student data collection, analysis and distribution system in 2024-2025. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from the Kansas Legislature's YouTube channel)

Kathi Grossenbacher, director of information technology at the Kansas State Department of Education, said the agency would implement a more sophisticated student data collection, analysis and distribution system in 2024-2025. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from the Kansas Legislature’s YouTube channel)

TOPEKA — The Kansas State Department of Education said Wednesday an automated data collection system would be implemented in the upcoming school year to modernize assembly, analysis and dissemination of information on public school students.

Details of the project were shared with Republicans and Democrats on the Kansas Legislature’s information technology committee, some of whom expressed concern about the department’s motivation for enhancing data collection and its ability to guarantee data privacy.

The project would be financed with a $3.4 million grant from the Institute of Educational Sciences, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, and $2.5 million from the state Department of Education. The state agency’s objective was to jettison an outdated system so school districts could gain quicker access to accurate individual student records and rely on precise information about students when addressing broader trends in education.

The state agency selected Double Line Inc. of Austin, Texas, to offer the statewide data collection system providing educators real-time, actionable insights into students.

“I’m concerned over the data, the security of the data,” said Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican. “You say the data is inaccurate. Don’t you think security and accuracy would be a priority instead of expanding?”

Kathi Grossenbacher, director of information technology for the Department of Education, said information security was a central focus on the project. Introduction of the automated system would replace a manual process of exchanging data with the state and school districts, she said.

The new approach wouldn’t violate privacy standards established by the state or federal government, she said.

“My number one priority is safeguarding student data,” Grossenbacher said. “I’m lucky enough to work for an education agency where the leadership prioritizes it in the budget.”

Rep. Barb Wasinger, R-Hays, said it was troubling the Department of Education intended to retain personally identifiable information on students indefinitely rather than destroy data after a certain period.

Along that line, Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, said he was puzzled the state agency had taken it upon itself to store vast amounts of student data when local school districts could be relied upon to handle that task.

“The least amount of information we have to put into the system the better,” Hoffman said.

Grossenbacher said the Department of Education stored information on student enrollment, demographics, program participation, course completion, special education and standardized testing so information could follow students moving to new schools. More broadly, she said, information was gathered for the purposes of calculating school funding, administering student assessments and advancing district accreditation, she said.

“We get asked and I’ve heard many times, ‘You collect too much data.’ KSDE collects a lot of data. Yes, we do. That’s absolutely the truth,” she said.

Individual school districts would continue to select their own information system vender under the new process, but data required under state or federal law would be transferred to the Department of Education with the centralized Double Line data storage system.

Grossenbacher said the upgraded student information system would give educators a solid foundation when addressing academic challenges. It also would support longitudinal studies of public school students that could be translated into action, she said.

“What do I mean by actionable data?” Grossenbacher said. “Let’s imagine a world where a superintendent or a building principal are informed throughout the school year … the chronic absenteeism rate. What is it? Oh, my gosh, it’s 14%. Who are those kids? I can see who they are. That changes the game. That changes the way our districts are able to intervene and maybe improve student outcomes.”

Grossenbacher said the new system would benefit at-risk students moved from home to home in the Kansas foster care system. She said those transfers were educationally disruptive because it could take weeks for a student’s records to arrive at the new school.

Grossenbacher said the transition during the 2024-2025 school year wouldn’t be without complications and setbacks.

“It’s going to be a process,” she said. “It’s going to be bumpy. There are going to be complaints. It’s going to be hard to go from manual file uploads to a continuous exchange.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.