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What Parents Need to Know About Student-Data Privacy

Friday, December 4, 2015 -- Sarah Cornelius

Thanks to the Internet, information has never been more readily available than it is today. Data is being collected about all of us all the time—including at schools. Do you know what data your school has on your child? What the school is allowed to share? What they aren’t? These questions should not be cause for endless worry, but they should be grounds for caution and more importantly, education. We’ve put together these five student-data privacy facts that all parents should be aware of and take the time to understand.

1. FERPA governs the access and use of information in your child’s education record

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that has been in place since 1974 which guarantees that parents have access to their child’s education record. Under FERPA, parents are ensured the right to review their child’s education record, request that any inaccuracies be corrected or deleted, and deny that information be disclosed in certain situations. The law also restricts who your student’s information can be shared with and how it can be used in situations such as enrollment transfers, research studies, court orders and health and public safety emergencies. FERPA applies to all schools, both public and private, that receive any federal funding.

2. It is the responsibility of your child’s school to ensure that vendors of any online tools they use handle student data appropriately

Almost all schools use third-party vendors to provide technology hardware and online tools for teaching and learning. When schools decide to form these partnerships, it is their responsibility that they choose vendors who have appropriate procedures and protections in place to safeguard the student data that they collect. Schools are required to maintain control over the data that is shared with vendors, and vendors can only use student information for approved, educational purposes, or internally to improve and develop their own products.

3. As a parent, you can ‘opt out’ of having your child’s information shared publicly

Schools are allowed to publicly share “directory information”, like students’ names, dates and places of birth, honors and awards, and attendance dates. Sometimes, this information also include email addresses, photos, grade levels, and participation in school sports or other extracurricular organizations. Schools are required to notify parents as to what information they consider “directory” and provide them with a reasonable amount of time to request that their child’s information is not released.

4. Over 200 education technology providers have signed the Student Privacy Pledge

Last fall, the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association developed the Student Privacy Pledge to hold education technology providers accountable for their use of student data. Requirements of the pledge include a commitment to not sell student data or use it for targeted advertising, be transparent about changes to privacy policies and data collection, uphold security standards, and support parental access to their child’s information. To date, over 200 of the leading edtech companies have signed the pledge (Edmentum is proud to be one of them!).

5. The availability of student data can improve your child’s learning experience

Yes, the security concerns about student data are real. However, when that data is collected and used appropriately, with the right security procedures in place, it represents a wealth of knowledge. Data can point to the content and instructional methods that engage students, as well as those that don’t. And, it’s integral in helping educators personalize instruction by seeing where individual students have strengths and knowledge gaps and then determining how best to keep them progressing. These benefits of student data must be kept in mind, and serve as motivation for all stakeholders in education to continue refining processes for its responsible and effective use.

Interested in learning more about the use of student data and your rights as a parent? Check out A Parents’ Guide to Student Data Privacy from FERPA│SHERPA. Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s commitment to upholding student data privacy standards? Take a look at our Safe Harbor Privacy Policy.