With concerns about data collection and privacy in school districts on the rise, the Data Quality Campaign, a national advocacy organization, released a new tool Wednesday meant to help provide parents, educators, and policymakers with a clear definition of what “student data” actually means.
The infographic aims to clarify common misconceptions and answer basic questions about what student information is collected and why, and how it can be used effectively, said Paige Kowalski, vice president of policy and advocacy for Data Quality Campaign, a Washington-based group that supports the use of data in education and the creation of school policy.
“Folks have a lot of simple questions that they feel haven’t been truly answered,” explained Kowalski. In discussions of myriad data issues “parents often stop and ask, ‘What do you mean by data?’”
One of the biggest misperceptions is that student data are “only numbers and test scores,” according to Kowalski. But in fact, student data also includes qualitative information such as homework, information collected from observing students, assessment data, enrollment details, and schedules.
In addition to explaining what information counts as student data, the new resource spells out basic requirements for effective data use. Crucial qualities for successful student data use include making sure data is secure, collecting data that is relevant to the education or policy goal it is being used for, and ensuring educators and policymakers have the necessary skills to utilize the data.
With such a broad spectrum of information being collected under the umbrella of student data, Kowalski also emphasized that individual data points are less effective when used in isolation, as they don’t provide the comprehensive information needed to support education goals of parents and students.
The graphic is intended to serve as a tool for boosting understanding about data not only for parents, but also among educators, policymakers, and the general public.
As the legislative focus on data privacy grows, defining which specific data is being used and how it will be protected is key to creating a legal framework for data collection, Kowalski said. “People are getting hung up on seemingly simple pieces like who has access and what data we’re talking about.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.