1. Not All Student Data is Created EqualWhen data in schools is discussed, educators should remember that it is about much more than test scores. Here are some broad categories:
- Health/Ability = medical information, allergies, physical and intellectual disabilities, individual education programs, accommodations
- Behavioral = disciplinary records, behavioral intervention plans, notes on behavior
- Academic = grades, test scores, progress reports
- Directory = name, age, address
2. We Need Student DataKati Haycock, President of the Education Trust and the symposium's opening keynote speaker, talked a great deal about why we need student data and what it has revealed when it is examined. She asserted 5 main areas where data is needed in education.
- We need data to know where we are - where we are making progress, and where we are not.
- We need data to monitor gaps in opportunity that need attention.
- Data helps dispel myths - and identify schools, districts, and states that we should celebrate and learn from.
- Data helps us determine what is working and what is not.
- Good data, together with good technology can help us personalize the learning experiences of our students - but also let us know when such customization isn't working.
3. Be Aware of Potential Breaches, But Don't Be AfraidHow do we find out what the data is telling us about progress, gaps, personalizing learning, and the other important areas Kati talked about in her keynote? This is the role of researchers. At the symposium, one panel was specifically focused on how schools and states are sharing student data with researchers to help improve education practice and technology. Of course, though, questions came up during the panel from concerned privacy advocates about whether there is potential for a breach when student data is shared. Parents are eager to know how their child's data is secured, who has access to it, and how it is being used. Schools should be transparent about this.
In reality, breaches are extremely rare and are typically not due to malicious intent. Mostly, they happen because of human error, and even these cases are few in number for a few reasons:
- States create scrambled IDs for each researcher in each project in order to prevent identification at an individual level. Additionally, researchers can never see how the scrambled IDs connect to the actual student.
- It is impossible for a researcher to find identifying data unless she knows exactly who she is looking for and has years of longitudinal information to match variables.
With all of this in mind, remember that there is little value for hackers in breaching educational data. Hackers are focused on making money, and educational data has little to no monetary value.
4. The Power of Data for Student LearningMost student data created in schools today is through the use of technology. As with many new trends in education, mobile technology is not a silver bullet. So, this section should be prefaced with an important point:
An ineffective teacher does not become more effective because he is given technology, but a student in that teacher's class will have access to more resources and tools to help her learn if she is given technology.Let's start with best practices for effective teachers. With the help of mobile technology in classrooms teachers collect meaningful data on their students every day. My favorite combination of technology for this is open education resources (OER) and digital formative assessment tools. I believe in this pair so much that I spoke about them at the symposium and wrote an article about them recently for Smarter Schools Project. Here's the thing -- the teacher who uses these tools to collect data must know what to do with that information in order for students to see a benefit.
- make sure the formative assessment is low stakes, so students know it is ok to make mistakes
- share the data with the students right away, so interventions prevent development of misunderstandings immediately
- give students time to understand the data and then change their thinking so they can get it right
5. There are Places to Learn MoreIf all of this feels like information overload, don't worry. There are plenty of resources out there to help teachers get a sense of the legal and educational landscape. For now, most of them are created for parents and edtech companies. They do help teachers understand the context for the student data and privacy discussion, though. Here are a few I recommend:
A Parents' Guide to Student Data Privacy from ConnectSafely
Beyond the Fear Factor: Parental Support for Technology and Data Use in School from Future of Privacy Forum
Student Privacy Pledge from Future of Privacy Forum and Software & Information Industry Association
Comparison of 2015 Federal Education Data Privacy Bills from National Association of State Boards of Education
Privacy Technical Assistance Center from the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education
We are all getting used to the idea that there are no easy answers, but it is important for educators to get a feel for the complexities and benefits of collecting and using student data. Whichever policies are enacted, teachers and the students in their classrooms will feel the impact. Educators must be a part of the discussion.