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    Education Week: Guidance Offered by DOE on Guarding Student Privacy

    Education Week reports that the Department of Education two weeks ago launched the Privacy Technical Assistance Center, which includes among its goals: “Provide clarity and guidance on privacy rules and regulations to ensure that information and data can be shared in a timely manner with the public while still protecting individual privacy as required by law.”

    “With the emphasis on [the No Child Left Behind Act], we’ve seen a real expansion of the information on students that’s being released to the public,” said Marilyn M. Seastrom, the chief statistician and director of the statistical-standards program at the department’s National Center for Education Statistics. […] “At the same time,” Ms. Seastrom said, “we have laws at the federal level, individual states have their own laws, and we have just good data ethics on protecting the privacy of these children.” […]

    She said the department plans this winter to propose amendments to update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, to address new longitudinal databases and interagency data sharing, among other things. In the meantime, the department has formed a new privacy-technical-assistance center, housed at the NCES, to help district and state officials plan to use and share their longitudinal student data safely. […]

    Nearly every state has built or is building a longitudinal database capable of tracking individual students’ academic achievement from year to year, in some cases from preschool through college and into the workforce. Yet if the troves of new data—and the technology available for linking all the information—create a huge opportunity for researchers and educators to track student progress, they also create problems for administrators trying to shoehorn their use into federal and state privacy laws enacted before personal computers.

    In a 2009 study, Joel R. Reidenberg, a law professor and the founding academic director of the Center on Information Law and Policy at Fordham University’s law school, in New York City, found no state had absolutely secure student data, and many collected more information and held it longer than needed for research purposes. (“Report Finds States on Course to Build Pupil-Data Systems,” Dec. 2, 2009.) […]

    [The Privacy Technical Assistance Center] is developing training materials for educators and researchers using student data and for information officers setting up the databases. It will conduct four site visits a year to states, districts, and outside research partners and set up a database to track the most common privacy questions. It also plans to release six guidance briefs—three next month and three in the spring—on basic questions about privacy, ways to manage electronic student records, and a profile of privacy protections in all 50 states.

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