AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

TAG | FERPA

We are Mya Martin-Glenn and Lisa M. Jones, and we work in the Division of Accountability & Research at Aurora Public Schools in Colorado. We will be sharing how external evaluators can learn some of the nuances of requesting school data. We also will give you a few hot tips for attending the AEA conference in Denver this October.

Lesson Learned: Know the district policies as well as the federal laws governing student data sharing. There are specific federal laws and rules that govern student data sharing, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

FERPA protects student education records and COPPA requires online sites and services (such as Survey Monkey and others) to provide notice and obtain permission from a child’s parents (for kids 13 years and younger) before collecting personal information from that child.

Hot Tip: Talk with someone in the district prior to requesting student data even if the evaluation is being conducted as a requirement of a grant. See if there is a central research and evaluation division that oversees data sharing with external entities. Also, check with the state – often the data you need is readily available.

Lesson Learned: Be sure you understand data coding. School district personnel download student data from data management systems such as Infinite Campus (IC). Frequently, data are stored in these systems using programmatic codes specific to the school district. It often takes considerable time to download and “clean” the data file for distribution to external evaluators.

Hot Tip: Ask for a “data dictionary” to help with any coding that may be unfamiliar to you.

Rad Resources: Currently our district is working on revising the external data request process, but here are some examples of other school district requirements for collecting data in schools.

Hot Tips: AEA Annual Meeting in Denver

  • Drink plenty of water – Start a week or so before arriving in Denver so your body has a chance to acclimate to the altitude which can be dehydrating.
  • Wear sunscreen and lip balm – Even in October, the mile high city is closer to the sun.
  • Bring your walking shoes – There are a lot of fun places within walking distance of the conference hotels (as well as a Light Rail system)

o   Comedy Works, 1226 15th St.

o   Denver Performing Arts Complex, 950 13th St.

o   Mercury Café, 2199 California St.

o   Denver Microbrew Tour, Great Divide Brewing Company – 303-578-9548

o   Brown Palace Hotel, 321 17th St, High tea is a lovely experienceor take a tour of the historic hotel

We’re thinking forward to October and the Evaluation 2014 annual conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Registration will soon be open! Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to aea365@eval.org.

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My name is Ted Dwyer and I’m the Manager of Evaluations in Hillsborough County Public Schools. I have worked in multiple school districts and have served as the reviewer of external research projects in several districts. Today, I would like to share some of what I have learned and observed about FERPA and some thoughts from the perspective of an evaluator.

To protect the rights of parents and students in educational settings, the federal government has put in place the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA’s main intent is to provide a clear delineation of the parent’s rights to have access to their student’s educational records. While codifying parental rights, FERPA also sets out some very specific guidance and general directions to educational institutions.

Hot Tip: Two reasons that evaluators should be concerned about FERPA are:

  1. If FERPA is violated, the district/university can lose its federal funding and they essentially cannot work with you for 5 years.
  2. FERPA requires parental consent (or adult consent for non-minor students) in order for an educational institution to provide any individual information on a student.

On its face this law can create major headaches for evaluators. However, there are several ways to easily work within FERPA.

1.  The easiest way to ensure compliance with FERPA is to get parental consent and make sure that it specifies:

a. What records can be disclosed (discipline data, achievement data, grades, etc.

b. How the records will be used (evaluation, etc.)

c. Who will receive the information

d. How long the information will be kept (usually until project completion)

Bonus Tip: Make sure that the student is identified in the way the institution keeps its records (student identifier – often a number)

2.  There is a clause in FERPA for “research” but you have to convince the institution that you are conducting the study “…for, or on behalf of…” the institution and that you are “…developing, validating, or administering predictive tests, administering student aid programs, and improving instruction…”. For many this seems like a “no brainer” for the “place” to put an evaluation; however, it is up to the institution to determine if your project meets the criteria – which can be an arduous process rife with institutional politics. Further, some institutions interpret this in relation to who funds the evaluation.

FERPA affects any educational organization that receives federal funds. As responsibility for ensuring that FERPA is followed falls upon the institution, your experience will depend on which institution you are going into, the institution’s policies, and how they interpret the state and federal law (often based on the legal advice of school attorneys). Find out what the policies of the institution are and follow them.

2014 Update: PPRA (Pupil Protections Rights Act) requires that schools and contractors obtain written parental consent before minor students are required to participate in any survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning:

  • Political affiliations;
  • Mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student and his/her family;
  • Sexual behavior and attitudes;
  • Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating and demeaning behavior;
  • Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
  • Legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers; or
  • Income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).
It also requires that instructional material and surveys related to these areas be made available to be inspected by parents. Some school districts have incorporated PPRA into their policies and it is important to know and understand how to address both when dealing with school districts.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Best of aea365 week. The contributions all this week are reposts of great aea365 blogs from our earlier years. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

I’m Regan Grandy, and I’ve worked as an evaluator for Spectrum Research Evaluation and Development for six years. My work is primarily evaluating U.S. Department of Education-funded grant projects with school districts across the nation.

Lessons Learned – Like some of you, I’ve found it difficult, at times, gaining access to extant data from school districts. Administrators often cite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as the reason for not providing access to such data. While FERPA requires written consent be obtained before personally identifiable educational records can be released, I have learned that FERPA was recently amended to include exceptions that speak directly to educational evaluators of State or local education agencies.

Hot Tip – In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Education amended regulations governing FERPA. The changes include “several exceptions that permit the disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records without consent.” One exception is the audit or evaluation exception (34 CFR Part 99.35). Regarding this exception, the U.S. Department of Education states:

“The audit or evaluation exception allows for the disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records without consent to authorized representatives … of the State or local educational authorities (FERPA-permitted entities). Under this exception, personally identifiable information from education records must be used to audit or evaluate a Federal- or State-supported education program, or to enforce or comply with Federal legal requirements that relate to those education programs.” (FERPA Guidance for Reasonable Methods and Written Agreements)

The rationale for this FERPA amendment was provided as follows: “…State or local educational agencies must have the ability to disclose student data to evaluate the effectiveness of publicly-funded education programs … to ensure that our limited public resources are invested wisely.” (Dec 2011 – Revised FERPA Regulations: An Overview For SEAs and LEAs)

Hot Tip – If you are an educational evaluator, be sure to:

  • know and follow the FERPA regulations (see 34 CFR Part 99).
  • secure a quality agreement with the education agency, specific to FERPA (see Guidance).
  • have a legitimate reason to access data.
  • agree to not redisclose.
  • access only data that is needed for the evaluation.
  • have stewardship for the data you receive.
  • secure data.
  • properly destroy personally identifiable information when no longer needed.

Rad Resource – The Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) of the U.S. Department of Education is responsible for implementing the FERPA regulations, and they have a wealth of resources about it on their website. Also, you can view the entire FERPA law here. The statutes of most interest to educational evaluators will be 34 CFR Part 99.31 and 99.35.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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My name is Ted Dwyer and I’m the Manager of Evaluations in Hillsborough County Public Schools. I have worked in multiple school districts and have served as the reviewer of external research projects in several districts. Today, I would like to share some of what I have learned and observed about FERPA and some thoughts from the perspective of an evaluator.

To protect the rights of parents and students in educational settings, the federal government has put in place the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA’s main intent is to provide a clear delineation of the parent’s rights to have access to their student’s educational records. While codifying parental rights, FERPA also sets out some very specific guidance and general directions to educational institutions.

Hot Tip: Two reasons that evaluators should be concerned about FERPA are:

  1. If FERPA is violated, the district/university can lose its federal funding and they essentially cannot work with you for 5 years.
  2. FERPA requires parental consent (or adult consent for non-minor students) in order for an educational institution to provide any individual information on a student.

On its face this law can create major headaches for evaluators. However, there are several ways to easily work within FERPA.

1.  The easiest way to ensure compliance with FERPA is to get parental consent and make sure that it specifies:

a. What records can be disclosed (discipline data, achievement data, grades, etc.

b. How the records will be used (evaluation, etc.)

c. Who will receive the information

d. How long the information will be kept (usually until project completion)

Bonus Tip: Make sure that the student is identified in the way the institution keeps its records (student identifier – often a number)

2.  There is a clause in FERPA for “research” but you have to convince the institution that you are conducting the study “…for, or on behalf of…” the institution and that you are “…developing, validating, or administering predictive tests, administering student aid programs, and improving instruction…”. For many this seems like a “no brainer” for the “place” to put an evaluation; however, it is up to the institution to determine if your project meets the criteria – which can be an arduous process rife with institutional politics. Further, some institutions interpret this in relation to who funds the evaluation.

FERPA affects any educational organization that receives federal funds. As responsibility for ensuring that FERPA is followed falls upon the institution, your experience will depend on which institution you are going into, the institution’s policies, and how they interpret the state and federal law (often based on the legal advice of school attorneys). Find out what the policies of the institution are and follow them.

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Greetings!  I am Leslie McConnell, a grants and evaluation specialist at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, a regional education service agency in Pittsburgh, PA. My team and I conduct external evaluations of state, regional, and local educational initiatives for the purposes of accountability and program improvement.

If you work with student and program data, it’s critical to have an understanding of the rules and best practices related to collecting, managing, analyzing, and securing student data – especially data of a confidential nature. Students and students’ parents are becoming increasingly interested in how personally-identifiable information is being used and shared, and for good reason. Identity theft, child abductions and abuse, and bullying are widespread concerns. In my experience, parents are usually unsure what information is collected by schools and programs, how that information is used, or why it is important. When we take on new projects, some of our first activities involve educating stakeholders about data protection.  It is important that all stakeholders have an understanding of what data can be collected and the conditions that govern their use.

Hot tip: Find out if your organization has an Institutional Review Board (IRB) or data safeguarding policy/procedure. If yes, use them. If not, consider developing and instituting a data safeguarding statement that you can share with stakeholders.

Hot tip: Develop a Student Data Permission Form that parents can sign to indicate that they consent to and understand what information you are collecting and how you will use it. Be sure to specify:

  • what you’re collecting,
  • why it is necessary,
  • how you will use the data,
  • who will have access to the data,
  • how it will be protected,
  • how results will be reported or publicized,
  • how and when it will be destroyed, and
  • the extent to which individuals can be identified (and how you will protect identities).

It is not uncommon for parents to sign such a form as part of the enrollment package for school or a supplemental program.

Even if your data collection falls within the scope of data collection not needing consent, it’s still a good idea for those potentially involved to understand what information may be used (and how).

Hot tip: Understanding the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is critical if you evaluate educational initiatives that involve preK-12 students.  This important federal law applies to all schools receiving funds through the U.S. Department of Education and provides specifics on protecting student educational records.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

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