The U.S. Department of Education today announced new guidance for schools and districts on how to keep parents and students better informed about what student data is collected and how it is used.
In the guidance issued by the Department's Privacy Technical Assistance Center, schools and districts are urged to be proactive in communicating how they use student data. Information should be available to answer common questions before they are asked.
"Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "At the same time, parents need assurance that their children's personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two."
The Department's Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) also announced a new companion website that includes a variety of resources and information regarding the federal laws FPCO administers, and to help keep the public informed about the privacy and use of student records.
The new site, http://familypolicy.ed.gov, is aimed at being more user-friendly to help school officials, parents and students find the information they are seeking. In the coming months, the Department will post decision letters from prior complaints handled by FPCO, which administers the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The website will also feature an online "community of practice" for school officials to share best practices, information, templates and other resources.
The new guidance recommends that schools and districts provide parents with information, such as:
What information are you collecting about students?
Why are you collecting this information?
How is the information protected?
Do you share any personal information with third parties? If so, with whom and for what purpose(s)?
Who should parents contact if they have questions about your data practices?
To respond to parental inquiries, the guidance recommends that schools :
Keep the lines of communication open.
Review parental questions, concerns and suggestions in a thoughtful and careful manner.
Respond to parental or student requests in a timely manner.
Periodically review old inquiries and resolutions to evaluate and improve communication and transparency efforts.
The guidance also advises schools to make information about their student data policies clear, consistent and easy to find on their public website. Members of the community should periodically review the site for ease of use, comprehension and completeness.
Today's announcement addresses the increasing need for schools and districts across the country to collect data about students, including their test scores, grades, credits earned, and other related information, such as demographics, enrollment, discipline, and special education status.
Education agencies use this information to identify student talents and special requirements, check academic progress and develop successful learning plans. The guidance encourages schools and districts to take a hands-on approach in communicating with parents to help alleviate confusion and misunderstandings about the use of student records.
The Department's Privacy Technical Assistance Center is a one-stop resource for education stakeholders to learn about data privacy, confidentiality and security practices related to student data. The center provides information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and technical assistance.
Besides FERPA which protects the privacy of student education records, FPCO also administers another law related to the use of student personal information. Known as the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), the statute addresses, among other matters, the use of personal information collected from students for marketing purposes and the administration of certain surveys and evaluations to students.