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Critical Reading Task: How do FERPA Guidelines Affect Student Privacy?

Guest post by John Chase.

Teachers who may be looking for a complex informational text for their students to practice with in preparation for the new assessments might consider using the following excerpts from the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which was amended 12/2/11. (selected passages and bold font added for clarity and emphasis)

...These amendments are needed to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education (Department or we) continues to implement FERPA in a way that protects the privacy of education records while allowing for the effective use of data

...All education data holders must act responsibly and be held accountable for safeguarding students' personally identifiable information (PII) from education records. The need for clarity surrounding privacy protections and data security continues to grow as statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDS) are built and more education records are digitized and shared electronically. As States develop and refine their information management systems, it is critical that they take steps to ensure that student information is protected and (PII) from education records is disclosed only for authorized purposes and under circumstances permitted by law. (When we use the term ''disclose'' in this document, we sometimes are referring to redisclosures as well.)

...PII often include data related to Federal- and Statefunded education programs, such as data related to assessments, grades, course enrollment and completion, attendance, discipline, special education status, homeless status, migrant status, graduation or dropout status, demographics, and unique student identifiers. We understand that data contained within an SLDS cannot be used effectively without using unique linking variables. Without the use of linking variables, States would be unable to monitor the educational progress and experiences of individual students as they progress through the education system across grade levels, schools, institutions, and into the workforce

...FERPA does not prohibit the use of a SSN [Social Security number] as a personal identifier or as a linking variable. However, we agree with commenters that the use of SSNs should be minimized given that SSNs are often used by criminals for identity theft

...These amendments include definitions for two previously undefined terms, ''authorized representative'' and ''education program,'' to permit greater access by appropriate and authorized parties to information on students in order to evaluate the effectiveness of education programs


...Amend § 99.3 to define the term ''authorized representative'' to include individuals or entities designated by FERPA-permitted entities to carry out an audit or evaluation of Federal- or State-supported education programs, or for the enforcement of or compliance with Federal legal requirements related to these programs


...FERPA-permitted entities must use a written agreement to designate an authorized representative (other than an employee) under the provisions in §§ 99.31(a)(3) and 99.35 that allow the authorized representative access to PII from education records without prior written consent in connection with any audit, evaluation, or enforcement or compliance activity;


...Several commenters asked the Department to include definitions for, and examples of, the following terms: ''evaluation,'' ''audit,'' ''research,'' ''legitimate educational interest,'' ''compliance activities,'' and ''enforcement activities.''

...The terms identified by the commenters are not defined in FERPA, and the Department did not propose to define them in the NPRM because we did not wish to define them in ways that would unnecessarily restrict the educational community

...We decline to adopt the suggestion that schools be required to notify parents and eligible students when PII from education records is redisclosed to an outside entity, and to provide parents and eligible students with an opportunity to opt out of the disclosure

...Educational agencies and institutions are required to annually notify parents and eligible students of their rights under FERPA. While FERPA does not require that this notice inform parents or eligible students of individual data sharing arrangements, we believe that transparency is a best practice."

Source: Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 232.

While an excerpt above clearly fails to meet the Common Core standard of writing with respect to the use of "definitions" and "concrete details" the document does include specific examples such as:

More specifically, an LEA could designate a university in another State as an authorized representative in order to disclose, without consent, PII from education records on its former students to the university. The university then may disclose, without consent, transcript data on these former students to the LEA to permit the LEA to evaluate how effectively the LEA prepared its students for success in postsecondary education.

Teachers who might want to expand this career and college readiness learning activity into a student research project should refer their students to the following links for additional information and a wide array of authentic documents and complex informational texts including; editorial, correspondence, video, news article, essay, interview, and press release...

12/16/11 NYC Public School Parents: "Regents agree to give NY student data to limited corporation run by Gates and operated by Murdoch's Wireless Gen"

10/21/12 NYC Public School Parents: "Parents, do you know where your child's data is?"

Shared Learning Collaborative

What do you think of this document based research project? How well is student privacy being protected in these new data systems?


John Chase has been a 7-12 social studies teacher in Central NY for 24 years and also works as a summer youth employment counselor with at-risk youth. During this time he developed Learning From Lyrics arts integration and character ed curriculum. This student-centered instructional strategy helps to prepare young people for adulthood and employment through learning activities that foster 21st century skills, digital citizenship, media literacy, and the development of essential social and emotional skills. Chase is also the founder and director of M.U.S.I.C., a non-profit 501(c)(3) publicly supported organization that promotes the educational use of songs by teachers in all subject areas, thereby extending the use and study of music beyond traditional General Music programs.

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