New survey reveals parents’ thoughts on student data use, privacy, protection

data-useNew data from the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) reveals a majority of parents participating in a survey said they support using student data to inform educational practices, but they remain concerned about student data privacy and security issues in schools.

The survey asked parents to identify their goals and describe their concerns about technology use and student data.

“Parent’s are one of the most important stakeholders in the discussions around using student data to improve classroom education,” said Future Privacy Forum Executive Director Jules Polonetsky. “Yet, not near enough work has been done to bring parents into the conversation. This survey is an important first step.”

Seventy-one percent of surveyed parents said their child uses school-provided technology, and 58 percent said they have used school-related technology. Three-quarters (76 percent) of those surveyed said they understand the data being collected and how it is used.

Most surveyed parents said they are comfortable with schools using student data to target teaching and learning improvements such as grades (97 percent), attendance records (94 percent), special-needs status (91 percent), and standardized test scores (88 percent).

Despite those high comfort levels, parents in the survey said they also want to know why school administrators need this data, and they’d like to know the educational benefits associated with data collection and use.

Surveyed parents said they are less likely to be comfortable when schools share student data with private companies that create educational software, websites, or apps (42 percent).

Parents appear to be more comfortable when the data-sharing results in a service that is directly associated with student benefits. Fifty-seven percent of surveyed parents said they support companies using student data to improve their products and services for students.

When it comes to benefits from additional uses of student data, surveyed parents are very much in favor of using individual student data to identify struggling students in order to provide early intervention (84 percent). They also support personalizing learning by identifying individual students’ strengths and weaknesses (79 percent).

Surveyed parents also said using aggregate level student data to improve the effectiveness of teacher instruction (78 percent) and help schools measure and hold teachers accountable for their effectiveness in the classroom (73 percent) are convincing reasons to use student information.

While most surveyed parents said they are concerned about student data being hacked or stolen (87 percent) or that an electronic record would be used in the future against their child by a college or an employer (68 percent), a majority are comfortable with the creation of electronic education records for their child as long as those records are properly protected (71 percent). That support level increases when parents know that schools are required to ensure student data security (85 percent); and when parents are aware that student data use is restricted to educational purposes (87 percent).

The survey also revealed that parents might need to brush up on their knowledge of federal student privacy protection laws.

Fifty-four percent of surveyed parents said they know nothing about existing federal laws regulating the use of student data–a finding that might explain why 57 percent of parents said the best way to ensure student data privacy is to adopt new state or federal laws.

“This survey makes it clear that we must do a better job of explaining to parents how their children benefit from improving the effectiveness of education products based on things learned in the classroom,” Polonetsky said. “And parents want a commitment that their student data will never be exploited. I think that’s a commitment they deserve.”

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Future of Privacy Forum from March 26-April 2, 2015 among 1,002 parents ages 18 and older who have children ages 0-17 in the household (of which 672 have children in public/charter school grades K-12). The survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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