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How Do We Get the Student Data Coin to Land on Both Sides?

Have you ever had a day where it just seemed like “Heads they win, Tails you lose”? On those days it may not seem like it, but the truth remains that there are two sides to the coin. (And no, I’m not talking about the coin flip required in Jeffco’s union contract to determine which teacher of equal seniority gets let go.)

The same holds true for the role of data in education. Certain kinds of student data are appropriate for school districts and state agencies to collect, mostly related to academic performance and attainment. But in my humble opinion, the subject matter of some questions is inappropriate. There’s also the issue of whom the data is being shared with.

If you remember last year, I brought your attention to some great work being done by some Colorado parents to tighten up laws that protect student data privacy from local or state breaches, or other misuse.

In 2014 the legislature made a little progress on this front to restore some balance. Thus it’s no big surprise that the data privacy issue has returned in 2015. So far a couple of proposals have been shot down, but yesterday the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved SB 173, “proposed to restrict software, database and app companies from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data and from compiling such data for commercial uses.”

What will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward is a 5-4 party line amendment added to the bill which puts extra restrictions on vendors, including the requirement to delete student data three years after it’s no longer needed. That could mean some extra resources and expenses for schools and districts to retain important data students need.

The same day Colorado’s SB 173 launched through its first committee hearing, a new piece on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s EdFly blog reminds us of the positive value of data in school operations. Aimee Rogstad Guidera and John Bailey share with readers how data properly collected and used works to do everything from individualize classroom instruction to inform the allocation of resources by school boards and legislatures.

Going further, they take a slightly different view of the data privacy situation in trying to guide decision-makers to ward a reasonable policy solution:

As it now stands, there is confusion about what student data is collected and who has access to it. This void allows the perpetuation of myths and misperceptions, such as the false claim that student records are sold to private companies for marketing purposes.

One sure way to deal with this confusion is transparency. Parents should know what data is being collected on their children and have access to it. Educational institutions, and their contracted service providers with access to student data, including researchers, should have clear, publicly available rules and guidelines for how they collect, use, safeguard, and destroy those data.

The bottom line? There are two sides of the coin when it comes to student data. And while there still are some unanswered questions, the state legislature seems to be on track to bring us closer to a strong, balanced approach that protects students and families while ensuring educators are empowered with the information they need.

Colorado may not need to flip the coin, but if we could just get it to land on its side….