Law & Courts Report Roundup

Data Systems Lack Privacy Safeguards

By Dakarai I. Aarons — November 03, 2009 1 min read
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As states go about building longitudinal-data systems, some have not taken adequate actions to safeguard sensitive information in student records, a new study concludes.

In some states, information is moving regularly from local to state agencies without regard to federal privacy laws, the study by the Fordham University Center on Law and Information Policy found. Other states are outsourcing development of their electronic-data warehouses without putting any explicit privacy restrictions on the vendors.

Most states began building data warehouses as a way to keep track of the disaggregated student-achievement data they are required to report annually under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law in 2002.

In the intervening years, states have begun to look at more uses for the data, including measuring college-readiness outcomes. The U.S. Department of Education argues that the use of such systems is “at the heart of improving schools and school districts,” and the federal economic-stimulus law provides $250 million in competitive-grant funding to help states build better data systems.

According to the report, at least 32 percent of states store students’ Social Security numbers in their data warehouses, at least 22 percent of states keep a record of student pregnancies, and at least 46 percent of the states preserve noneducational statistics, including mental-health and justice-system records.

The study recommends that each state hire a chief privacy officer to manage such issues, and collect only information that is being used for clearly articulated auditing or evaluative purposes.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 04, 2009 edition of Education Week as Data Systems Lack Privacy Safeguards

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