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Remember Legal Protections When Sharing Data with Higher Education Entities

Higher Education Publications

At both the college and the grade school levels, administrators and researchers are thinking of creative ways to work together to use student data to drive success, with benefits to both levels of schools. Public school districts should remember the importance of protecting these valuable partnerships with strong memoranda of understanding that comply with student records laws and adequately protect student data privacy.

As a recent article from Ed Tech Magazine described:

. . . Education Dive reports that researchers at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute partnered with Chicago Public Schools on a data-driven initiative to keep students on track to graduate. Every six weeks, the Institute gives school principals a “freshmen-on-track” metric for each student, and individual schools and teachers then use that information to determine the best academic intervention. So far, this successful program has been reproduced in 20 university-district partnerships.

These partnerships can be particularly useful to K-12 schools facing budget cuts, the magazine explained, “as research institutions can provide valuable support in gathering and analyzing data and in serving as an external decision-making resource.” They are also equally valuable to universities whose researchers gain access to otherwise inaccessible student data that can vastly improve educational research.

School districts should remember that in relationships with higher education entities involving student data, the school district is responsible for ensuring compliance with student records laws and student data privacy protections. A memorandum of understanding should be carefully crafted to cite and comply with the requirements of at least one exception to FERPA and the Illinois School Student Records Act (ISSRA) if student-identifying data will be shared with an institution of higher education. All too often, school districts rely on inapplicable exceptions or fail altogether to address this issue in their agreements with other schools. Moreover, considering heightened awareness and sensitivity of parents and community members to the sharing of student data, any memorandum of understanding should also clearly frame what the receiving institution can do with any data received and what the institution must do in the case of a security breach, among other things.

Taking such steps, which also should be followed in partnerships between two school districts or between a public school and any other outside organization, can help prevent a valuable data-sharing partnership from becoming a legal headache for your school. It will also ensure that your district gains access to world-class research and analysis without compromising data privacy and safety of your students.