5 key steps to safeguarding student data

Understanding data can improve student performance and lead to greater productivity for administrators and teachers; here’s how to protect this information

safeguard-dataToday, more than 90 percent of school districts electronically store data on everything from student demographics and course enrollment, to attendance and test scores on statewide assessments.

As uses of student data continue to expand, districts must be prepared to protect this information and ensure it’s only used for its intended purpose: to help students succeed. Here are five things school districts can do to safeguard their student data.

1. Understand the difference between data privacy and security.

Protecting student data should involve two elements: privacy and security. While there have been more nationwide discussions about student data privacy, securing student information is equally important.

Data privacy can be described as the appropriate use of student information. In essence, how are the data being used? On the other hand, data security refers to the confidentiality and availability of student information. In other words: Who is using the data? To protect student data, school districts should have an understanding of both of these terms and their implications.

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2. Collaborate closely with vendors.

Protecting data presents a unique and complex challenge for school districts, especially as more users are given access to student information. Strong collaboration between districts and their vendors can help maintain a high level of protection. Districts should ensure their integration with third-party vendors is well defined and limited to the vendors authorized to access student information through written contracts and agreements.

Additionally, district leaders should regularly discuss the importance of data privacy with faculty and staff, and conduct routine security audits to ensure only necessary staff are assigned to specific roles or groups. Alternately, vendors should implement procedures to ensure only authorized employees can access student information. Routine security audits should be conducted by vendors to make sure the latest industry standards are being met.

3. Establish proper security measures.

Without proper security measures in place, student data are never fully protected. Most news stories about the loss of personal information can be attributed to improper security management. Today, schools are able to store their data on-site or through a cloud-based service. While most schools rely on cloud services for their data storage, both options can offer a high level of protection if districts follow the proper steps.

4. Manage on-premise data storage.

Districts that choose to store their data on-premise can ensure the protection of their information by maintaining physical measures to secure building locations where network equipment is located, such as creating multi-step access to server rooms and Storage Area Networks (SAN). Districts also should limit database administrator rights to primary and secondary individuals on staff. Conducting a routine security audit and establishing a disaster recovery program also can be useful tools when utilizing on-site data storage.

5. Establish requirements for cloud computing.

While cloud computing is one of the fastest growing technology sectors, minimum requirements for cloud services have not been standardized in the education industry and can vary by district. In fact, 20 percent of school districts do not have policies for the use of their online cloud services.

When considering cloud-based data storage, districts should look for a student information system (SIS) provider that meets recommended standards. Providers should offer database management and monitoring services with regular application updates. Additionally, cloud providers should maintain multiple data centers with redundant methods of protecting computer systems from failure.

Understanding data can improve student performance and lead to greater productivity for administrators and teachers. As discussions over student data privacy and security continue to take shape, school districts should strengthen their own data protection measures, leading to a more efficient learning environment. For more information on how to protect student data, download the student data privacy and security guidelines from Skyward at http://www.skyward.com/protectyourdata.

Ray Ackerlund (@RayAckerlund) is the Vice President of Marketing & Product Management for Skyward Inc. With the company for more than 20 years, Ray guides the strategic execution of marketing and product vision for Skyward’s administrative software exclusively designed for K-12 school districts. Skyward serves more than 5 million students and 1,700 school districts worldwide.

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