It was a fairly unassuming and sensible piece of legislation when it was passed by Congress back in 1998. We just wanted to protect children from unscrupulous data collectors on line. Those were simpler days, more cyber-fearful days, days when we couldn't imagine that the government would require five-year-olds to sit at a computer and answer questions about themselves.
When it comes to student privacy, mostly we've been talking about FERPA, and all the ways that the Department of Education has tied its shoelaces together
But COPPA isn't under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. COPPA is the FTC's baby, and that means it's still fully functional. And it could be a real game changer for the test-crazy wing of the reformster movement, because it arms every parent with what looks to be a hefty monkey wrench.
The reading by the folks at United Opt Out and Student Privacy Matters is pretty simple. If your pre-teen child's schools is having them take any sort of test that involves entering any sort of personal information on line, you are entitled to full information about it, and you are entitled to have them not participate. (COPPA does not apply to any program where an adult collects the information and enters it into the program.)
United Opt Out has a site with a template for a letter that you can send to your school. This has the potential for a nation-wide action that could really gum up the works for the computer-based PARCC and SBA tests (unless you're in Pennsylvania, where we do all our testing the way God intended, with paper and pencil). It would also be interesting to see, when push comes to shove, what exactly qualifies as "personal information." Sure, that covers explicitly asking about address, family income, and household composition. But would "personal information" also describe, say, test questions aimed at evaluating the elusive non-cognitive areas-- questions designed to measure the child's personality. Personally, as far as I'm concerned, the question of "How good is this kid at math" is also personal information that ought to be covered by this. But baby steps.
If you are the parent of a pre-teen, and you've been itching for a way to get your child out the way of the testing juggernaut, here's your path. Check out United Opt Out for more details.