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Student Data in State Systems At Risk, Study Says


A review of how states gather and manage databases containing individualized student information shows that many do so in ways that threaten the privacy of students, including using procedures that violate federal mandates on storing data about mental health, pregnancies, and juvenile crime.

The 87-page study by the Center on Law and Information Privacy at Fordham University Law School found that about one-third of states warehouse children's Social Security numbers, and nearly half track the mental health and jail sentences of students in their databases.

The center examined states' practices in light of greater data-collection requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But many states go beyond what the NCLB law requires, the report says, and some practices violate the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, it adds.

The report, "Children's Educational Rights and Privacy: A Study of Elementary and Secondary School State Reporting Systems," recommends that student data maintained at the state level be made anonymous through the use of "dual-database architecture." Third-party data processors, such as private firms, should be made to sign agreements that address privacy obligations, the report says. And state education departments should each have a chief privacy officer to protect data, the report says.

The full report is linked above, and a press release is here, and a Washington Post story about the report is here.


So, public schools are collecting their students' data in ways they are not supposed to be, and yet so many pieces of data that might prove helpful to a student's education are being left out of the equation in detrimental ways. If a student is recorded as having mental health issues, wouldn't they benefit from some special program rather than their school districts not doing anything about it and pushing them along?

The study does not challenge the value to local schools of having this information about their enrolled students. It does, however, challenge the state department of education's need for this information in identifiable form. While cohort information can be useful for state educational planning, individual student identity is not necessary and is intrusive.

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