Student Data Privacy: What You Need to Know

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Schools are getting more and more tech-savvy. Assignments, tutoring and even report cards are now online. From these things, schools are collecting data on your children. Here’s what you need to know to keep your student safe.

What is student data?

Student data includes any information about a student that is collected, stored and communicated by schools or technology vendors on behalf of schools that is particular to that individual student. This includes name, address, names of parents or guardians, date of birth, grades, attendance, disciplinary records, eligibility for lunch programs, special needs and other information necessary for basic administration and instruction.

It also includes the data created or generated by the student or teacher in the use of technology—email accounts, online bulletin boards, work performed with an educational program or app, anything that is by or about the individual student in the educational setting. (Source: ConnectSafely.org)

The Problem

All of this info may seem innocent, but it raises a few important questions, including: Who owns our children’s data or the reports that our students write? How long will this information be stored and saved? Will this information later be released and published or shared and possibly impact them when applying for college or getting a job? Are we sure that a company will not use this data to negatively impact my child or sell the data to another company? Make no mistake, your child’s data could become a commodity.

Advocacy Around the U.S.

In April 2016, The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) released a new set of policy recommendations that provide a guide for states to ensure that data is working in service of student learning. The Four Policy Priorities to Make Data Work for Students are:

  1. Measure what matters. Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure that all students are on track to succeed.
  2. Make data work for students. Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training and support they need to answer their questions and take action.
  3. Be transparent and earn trust. Ensure that every community understands how its schools and students are doing, why data is valuable and how it is protected and used.
  4. Guarantee access and protect privacy. Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it is kept safe.

In its report, “Student Data Privacy Legislation: A Summary of 2016 State Legislation,” the Data Quality Campaign found that as of Sept. 1, 2016, states introduced bills to take the following actions:

  • Govern the data use and privacy activities of online school service providers.
  • Establish greater transparency around how states and districts are managing student information.
  • Grant new responsibilities for safeguarding data to districts.

In all, 34 states introduced 112 bills addressing student data privacy and 15 states passed 18 new student data privacy laws.

National PTA’s Position

In 2015, National PTA adopted a position statement on student data privacy and security that calls for the promotion of policies that maintain the confidentiality of student information and ensure families have appropriate notification and consent for what and how children’s data is collected and used. To read the full position statement, visit PTA.org/Resolutions.

National PTA also urges school districts to designate a privacy and security officer to ensure compliance with privacy law and provide professional development for teachers, principals and any school employee or official who handles student data.

National PTA collaborated with the Future of Privacy Forum and ConnectSafely to develop a free, digital guide to help parents understand the laws that protect student data as well as students’ and parents’ rights under the laws. You can read the guide at PTA.org/StudentDataPrivacy.

Check out PTA advocacy efforts around this issue.

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