What does the future hold for student data privacy? Earlier this month, Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa penned a preview of all of the many education issues that could surface in 2018. Ujifusa highlighted ongoing efforts in areas such as career and technical education, juvenile justice, and higher education. He also noted the need for a jumpstart on issues such as Head Start, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

But in that bucket of areas that are still at the starting line, one important topic stood out – student data privacy. As EdWeek’s federal education reporter noted, “the personally identifiable information generated by K-12 students was a big alligator lawmakers were trying to wrestle with a few years ago.” Despite work by the U.S. House of Representatives to look at how companies collect and examine student data and congressional calls for proper security procedures, there are no current plans for Congress to overall the federal law overseeing student data privacy.

Of course, the absence of a plan does not mean that national action can’t be taken, but if history is a guide, it does mean it is unlikely. Instead, educators will continue to see the bulk of the action on student data privacy happening at the state level, with governors and state legislators taking up this important issue.

As we wrote last month, there are a great number of questions that states should consider before they delve into the efforts to tweak, amend, or overhaul current privacy legislation. When states take up the issue of data privacy, they need to look at who is collecting the data and how the information is being safeguarded. They need to distinguish between high-stakes and low-stakes data. They need to better involve parents in the collection and utilization process. They need to ensure data is used for its intended purpose. And they need to be transparent through the process, both in terms of how the legislation is crafted and how new policies are implemented.

Protection of Student Data - Student Research Foundation

Recently, the Data Quality Campaign released a guide for lawmakers on some of these important questions. In Education Data 101: A Briefing Book for Policymakers, DQC also identifies “Four Policy Priorities to Make Data Work for Students.”

These priorities – Measure What Matters, Make Data Use Possible, Be Transparent & Earn Trust, and Guarantee Access & Protect Privacy – serve as beacons for the next generation of student data policy. They highlight that utilization is just as important as privacy, and that collaboration is more important than closed doors and policies.

In the coming months, parents and localities will have a far better sense of what their states are seeking to do to develop student data policies that keep up with the times. If history is a guide, the vast majority of ideas that are put forward will never be signed into a law, but a few important actions may and likely will be taken.

As state legislatures look to take those actions, it is important that they consider a few key concepts:

Collaboration – Student data affects both the educator and the learner. It demands the attention of the school district and the family. Because of this, it is essential that all stakeholders are involved in the process and that their opinions and needs are considered before action is taken. Moving forward on behalf of just one audience can cause real harm to the others in the process.

Understanding – It is likewise essential that we understand exactly what is meant by “student data.” Currently, our states and localities collect a significant amount of information, both high and low stakes, for every student in the schools. Much of this data is used to improve teaching and learning, ensuring that services align with the needs and expectations of families. Acting to address one particular issue raised by one stakeholder can have unintended consequences in other corners in need of more and better student data.

Vision – We know that education and schools are changing rapidly. How schools were structured and how kids were taught a decade ago are vastly different than today, and are likely quite different than what we will see in 10 years. Actions taken today must reflect the long view of learning. If we simply act to address a particular issue today, states and localities will likely need to take up student data issues each and every legislative year.