Tripod Survey: Violation of Privacy?

Some school districts in Tennessee–including Shelby County, Metro Nashville, and Knox County–will be administering the Tripod survey to students this school year. (It is our understanding that Metro Nashville will be administering the survey this month, after students return from Fall Break. It will also be administered again in the spring.) This survey is being used as part of teacher evaluations in some of the districts that are administering it. For example, in Metro Nashville, Tripod survey results will reportedly count towards 5% of a teacher’s evaluation.

We have had a chance to review a previous version of the survey and, subsequently, have some significant concerns about its use. (Please go to this link and scroll to page 19–Appendix A–to see this version of the survey. Please note that we do not know what this school year’s survey will include, but we are working under the assumption that it will be similar to the version linked here.)

1) The wording of the survey could be confusing to children, especially those who speak a second language or have reading delays. (e.g., items 8, 25, 45, & 52; elementary grades version)

2) The large majority of the answers are entirely subjective and student responses will vary depending upon their personal characteristics, values, and belief systems. (e.g., items 28 & 33, elem. version)

3) Some of the items ask students to reveal information they (and/or their parent/s) might not feel comfortable disclosing. For example, the survey asks students how many adults and children live with them (items 84 & 87, secondary version), how many books they have in their home/bedroom (item 85, secondary version/item 77, elem. version), and how many years of school the adult with the most education in their home has (item 89, secondary version). (We find it interesting that The Tripod Project does not list any of these more personal questions on its “Sample Student Survey Questions” webpage.)

In addition to our concerns about the Tripod survey itself, we have questions about how the data from these tests will be stored and disseminated. The US Department of Education has weakened FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) over the past few years. As a result, schools can now release student records and data without parental consent to companies contracted by schools. So we ultimately have no idea who might see the information our children share in this survey.

Some parents in Tennessee have already refused the Tripod survey for their children. Please feel free to copy and paste the sample refusal letter below if you choose to refuse the Tripod for your child as well.

I am refusing administration of the TRIPOD survey for ______ during the 2013-2014 school year. I have significant concerns about the types of questions included on the survey and how the data is stored and disseminated. I feel that some of the questions violate her/his (and our family’s) right to privacy. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns. 


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