The Intersection

The State Role in Addressing Student Data Privacy Concerns

August 28, 2013

By Paige Kowalski, Director, State Policy and Advocacy, Data Quality Campaign

Like a house supported by its foundation, the success of nearly every education reform from measuring college and career readiness, to supporting great teaching, to turning around schools, and improving accountability systems, rests on a foundation of high-quality data. States have been working for over a decade to create their own state data systems to collect and use the education data needed to answer critical stakeholder questions.

However, along with the power of data comes the responsibility to protect student privacy and implement good data security and data governance. States are rising to the occasion by making important investments in new and updated privacy and security policies that supplement federal student privacy laws (FERPA). Oklahoma recently passed a bill delineating roles and responsibilities around the collection, sharing, and use of education data. And, Louisiana created a task force with the goal of better understanding data needs and available solutions to recommend state policy improvements to ensure student privacy. It is imperative that state policymakers act now to:

1)    create policies to ensure security, such as data breach and SSN protection policies;
2)    define and communicate who has the authority and accountability for data governance decisionmaking and data    security;
3)    ensure that state data policies are transparent and clearly documented;
4)    support state capacity to implement and sustain privacy and security policies; and,
5)    communicate to the public the value of data and how student data is being protected.

Safeguarding privacy while harnessing the power of data is complex, and it requires extensive legal and technical know-how, but we know from other sectors that it’s possible and, in the end, it really pays off.

When it comes to education data, states are uniquely positioned to obtain and leverage this expertise and have the power to adopt the most effective and secure data management tools and technologies that meet the needs of students, parents and educators in their states. For example, the New York State Education Department recently launched their Education Data Portal (EDP) designed to help educators and families access their students’ securely-stored education data and related instructional resources. Colorado showed us the power of measuring student growth using a statistical model that shows a student’s achievement over time, with their innovative SchoolView tool, which provides school improvement resources and information on school performance. These critical tools are not possible for most school districts to develop, given the human and technical resources necessary to deliver a high-quality, user-friendly product while ensuring privacy and security at the same time.

Ultimately, states, districts, and educators are all working towards the same goals—using data effectively, protecting it completely, and helping students succeed. With state resources and support, these goals can be achieved.

Please visit the Data Quality Campaign to learn more about the value of data in education and for more resources on ensuring student data privacy and security.

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