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Leslie Kirby McConnell on Student Data Consent

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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