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Three state approaches to student data privacy

Administrators must balance student data privacy concerns with transparency and action

data-privacyAs school reform efforts receive nationwide attention, collecting and using student data plays an important role in improving teaching and learning in today’s classrooms. But accompanying student data are conversations about data privacy.

Concerns about how education leaders use and protect student data abound, and some states and state education leaders are making a concerted effort to ensure that adequate protections are in place for student data, while at the same time making sure that educators are able to use data to inform and improve instruction.

During a Connected Educator Month webinar sponsored by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), state education leaders described their efforts to safeguard student data with privacy measures and practices.

(Next page: Three data privacy efforts. Plus, take our poll on student privacy.)States must collect the right data to answer critical questions, and must meet the needs of educators and families by giving them access to the right data, at the right time, and in the right format, but they also have to ensure that privacy and security are paramount, said Paige Kowalski, the DQC’s director of State Policy and Advocacy.

New York State education officials are working to tailor EngageNY Portal (ENYP) to meet student and state data needs through a standardized approach across its nearly 700 districts, said Ken Wagner, associate commissioner of Curriculum, Assessment, and Educational Technology in the New York State Education Department.

The portal will give authorized educators, students, and parents or legal guardians the ability to log in and view students’ educational data through dashboards.

Through ENYP, Wagner said that all stakeholders will be able to have one dedicated access point through which to view, link, and track student data.

Student data privacy is among state education leaders’ top concerns, Wagner said. Access to student information will be controlled at the district levels, and third-party vendors have access to data only when authorized by the state or by districts, and then only for educational purposes.

“We want to be aware of what data is collected, how it’s used, and realize all potential risks,” Wagner said.

In Louisiana, electronic access to student data is based on an individual’s role within the education department, and access is provided only with proper authorization, said Boffy, who is the educator in residence for the Council of Chief State School Officers. Boffy also is secretary-treasurer in the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state’s system records changes to or downloads of data when they occur.

In June, the state created a special task force to evaluate data privacy practices to ensure that practices align with policy after public and parental scrutiny arose over the sharing of student data through the state’s partnership with a database company that tracks student progress. State education officials terminated the partnership after review.

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(Next page: How parents helped pass a privacy law in Oklahoma)

The task force will evaluate data storage, security, and sharing practices at district and state levels and will recommend updated standards and practices accordingly.

Balancing data privacy with the ability to put student data to good use and improve instruction is key, Boffy noted.

“It’s one thing to have data; it’s another to have data that informs the decisions of your educators,” Boffy said. “We don’t want teachers spending more time integrating data than they do teaching.”

Parental concerns over student privacy helped drive the passage of the Oklahoma Student Data Accessibility, Transparency, and Accountability Act of 2013, said John Kraman, executive director of Student Information in the Oklahoma State Department of Education (SDE).

The SDE worked with Oklahoma legislators to address voters’ concerns about student privacy, and the bill passed with almost no opposition.

The bill establishes new procedures and privacy practices for student data collection and use.

While new privacy practices will be put into place, the bill also emphasizes transparency and gives stakeholders information on how and why student data is protected.

“It’s important that we have transparency and oversight, but also flexibility—we don’t know today what we might want tomorrow,” and it’s important that the bill is flexible enough to change to suit educators’ and policy makers’ needs, Kraman said.

Lawmakers’ and educators’ efforts to craft legislation that is both protective and flexible speaks to the larger issue of “balancing privacy concerns and parental rights with empowering the people who are in our schools teaching our kids,” Kraman noted.

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Laura Ascione

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