Aimee Guidera posted on 10/16/2013.

States Must Prioritize Data Use and Protection

Across the country, educators are using education data responsibly to tailor learning to meet the needs of every child and ensure their students are on track to graduate prepared for the rigors of postsecondary education and the workforce. But as a recent pair of stories in The New York Times illustrates, educators need more policy and practical guidance around data use—especially concerning how they share data with service providers offering tools to help store and use data effectively. These providers are a cost-effective investment for many school districts that don’t have the capacity to develop data tools on their own. But educators and policymakers must take measures to ensure the careful oversight of any education data sharing.

That’s where the state comes in, leading the way by setting crystal clear policies to safeguard the privacy, security, and confidentiality of their students’ education data. States are in the best position to take the reins and create solid frameworks around protecting student data. Our school districts need state guidance, assistance, and support to sort through the new world of data tools and resources and set appropriate guidelines—and to do so on a continual basis that keeps up with the ever-changing technology.

State policymakers should have these conversations with practitioners, district leaders, and parents to prioritize data security and confidentiality, while at the same time ensuring that the best information is being used to make the best decisions for our students. Some states, including Oklahoma, have taken proactive steps to provide transparency and establish governance structures that will keep up with evolving technologies and the increasing demand for education data.

There are a few crucial steps state policymakers should take as they address the urgent need to safeguard education data:

  1. Prioritize transparency. Parents, teachers, and all stakeholders should know what data is being collected and stored, who gets to see what data, and why they need it. Information about data privacy and security is crucial, but these stakeholders should also be aware of all the powerful ways these data are being used by educators to improve student learning.
  2. Establish governance. The technology around data is advancing day by day, and a one-time law just won’t address every future challenge. Therefore, governance structures—either giving authority to existing bodies such as the state board of education, or establishing new state data oversight councils—must be given explicit responsibility to establish the rules that govern how data is collected, shared, accessed, stored, and protected, and equally important, to address the changing nature of data security as the technology changes.
  3. Provide guidance. States need to develop resources and roadmaps for people at all levels—from parents to teachers to policymakers—that provide guidance on how to use data effectively and appropriately. This doesn’t mean states need to do this alone; there is a need for national resource center(s) that draw from successes in other fields and in education and applies it to the current education landscape.

Education data have tremendous power to inform decisions and improve outcomes for students. But essential to promoting its effective and impactful use is ensuring that these data are both accessible to key users and kept secure, private, and confidential. When states take the lead and provide appropriate guidance and support to their educators, educators and parents are free to do their jobs and use the best information available to make the best decisions.

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