Streamlined and Strengthened

Five new best practices for securing student data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Adam Eberle

CREDIT SUNGARD K-12A vital responsibility of school districts is to safeguard all statistics and information they gather about their students. While that data must be kept secure to protect student privacy, it also needs to be available for a variety of reasons to students, parents, teachers, administrators, policymakers, researchers, and members of the community.

As a result, superintendents navigate a world where information about their students is collected and shared, while also guarded against inappropriate access or use. Setting policy, monitoring implementation and reporting results are among the challenges district administrators must meet when education data and student privacy overlap.

Setting policy, monitoring implementation and reporting results are among the challenges district administrators must meet when education data and student privacy overlap.

Here are five ways K-12 education leaders are currently working with administrative software providers to streamline data management and strengthen data security in their districts.

Student Privacy Pledge

Introduced jointly last year by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association, the Student Privacy Pledge has already been signed by 250-plus education technology companies. It spells out best practices and provides helpful information for districts to share with stakeholders about the who-what-where-how of student data collection and use. Districts increasingly want to work with educational technology providers who have signed the pledge.

Integrate privacy regulations

Best practices in this area say that awareness is not sufficient; current law should always be integrated with your school software solutions. So here’s advice from StriveTogether, which has been developing guidelines on student data privacy since 2014. It offers guidance and links to regulatory agencies so that you can work with your software company to make sure your district is abiding by the rules of FERPA and HIPAA and COPPA.

Speed it up

Instead of working with companies in a piecemeal approach, partner with an administrative software company capable of meeting all your integrated technology needs. It’s an effective, efficient, and smart way to boost data management from intake to distribution.

Collect and share appropriately

Transparency is vital. District policy should inform all stakeholders of what information is being collected—along with how and why it will be used—while removing personally identifying information as needed. From there, however, experts advise caution whenever data gathering is proposed. “We don’t collect data just because somebody wants to look,” said Robert Swiggum, deputy superintendent of technology services for education in the state of Georgia, at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in March. Rather, districts should establish and adhere to policies and principles regarding the purposes of collecting and sharing data.

Customize and personalize

None of the 13,500-plus school districts in the U.S. are the same. That’s why each needs a customized solution to optimize information management for school success. The National Center for Education & Statistics currently offers multiple ways to analyze basic data, but we like this simple equation: adaptability = flexibility and depth. Using the right school success solution, a district may prioritize data for teachers to use to help students individually and collectively. Or it may collect data on student needs and achievement in order to more deeply engage its community. All districts, however, can benefit from working with educational technology companies that can offer strategies for individualizing and strategically sharing student information.

Adam Eberle is Chief Commercial Officer with SunGard K-12. His company is a leading provider of technology solutions and thought leadership programs that drive student achievement in school districts across the country.


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