Data Resource Roundup, Vol. 2: On Student Data Privacy

September 8, 2015

Bill DeBaun, Program Analyst

Welcome to the second edition of the Data Resource Roundup! In this series we will periodically share resources, including blogs, courses, white papers, and other tools, that cover various aspects of data. Whether it’s better managing and tracking of data or getting your organization to become more data-driven, it will all be here in the Roundup. Have your own resources that should be featured here? Be sure to let me know about them at or by putting them in the comments.

The phrase “student data privacy” often strikes fear in the heart of program staff the access and success field over. It’s not that programs aren’t being mindful about student data privacy and adhering to policies and practices that protect that data, it’s more that the phrase “FERPA” (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) can cause some apprehension because it is an important piece of legislation whose requirements aren’t always clearly understood.

Worth noting is that I have some of these same confusions, and I am always looking for resources that can clear them up. Fortunately I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend a Student Data Privacy, Policy, and Advocacy Convening that was hosted by StriveTogether and the Data Quality Campaign. This convening introduced me to a number of student data privacy-related resources that I think NCAN members would surely benefit from knowing about.

First, did you know that the U.S. Department of Education operates a Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) specifically to field questions about student privacy and FERPA questions? They do! You, yes you, can contact PTAC with “questions related to matters of privacy, confidentiality, and security of education data” and the help desk will get back to you. PTAC also offers a number of trainings on a wide variety of data privacy and security-related topics. Beyond all of this, PTAC also offers a toolkit that covers security best practices, data governance, and data sharing and dissemination. Overall, this is a resource that programs should be bookmarking if they have questions about student privacy.

Not to be outdone, the event’s hosts also have some great data privacy and quality materials that are worth programs’ time. First, from the Data Quality Campaign is this guide to “Making FERPA as simple as green, yellow, or red.” Unclear about what the “rules of the road” are for working with FERPA and when you are not allowed to disclose data, when you are allowed to disclose without parental consent, etc.? This poster is a clear, concise, and eminently consultable guide. Next in the useful infographic category is are two titled simply, “What is student data?” and “Who uses student data?” these colorful posters are a crash course to answering these two key questions. Finally, the DQC spends a lot of time staying apprised of student data privacy legislation in the states. Although there are always new developments in this area that are best followed on Twitter, DQC also publishes an annual update on legislative developments. Stay tuned; the next one should be out soon!

Not to be outdone, StriveTogether also featured some excellent resources at the convening. Two different toolkits, “Student Data Privacy Best Practices: Five Ways Community Organizations Can Ensure Effective and Responsible Data Use” and “Data Drives School-Community Collaboration: Seven Principles for Effective Data Sharing” are quick reads loaded with practical advice for organization who work with student data.

Need a few more privacy-related tools? Who doesn’t?

If you have always said to yourself, “I need some kind of sherpa...for FERPA,” you are in luck! FERPA Sherpa, from the Student Privacy Resource Center, has suggested materials for service providers, parents, school officials, and policymakers. This site makes an excellent addition beyond those mentioned above.

Finally, take a second to consider these Student Data Principles, which are supported by 38 national organizations. These are “foundational principles for using and safeguarding students’ personal information,” and they are worth a look to see how in-line your organization is with their tenets.

After the recent convening, I felt I was much better prepared to look for information related to student data privacy. The resources above are simultaneously comprehensible and comprehensive and provide a number of insights into this important topic. Until next time, thanks for the reading the Data Resource Roundup!

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