Parents, who’s got your kids’ student data?

Schools collect a whole lot of information about their students: demographics, grades, test scores, special education status, discipline information, medical information, and lots, lots more.

What’s their privacy policy?

Ask.

Seriously. Because they’re not going to tell you, unless you ask, that they can and do disclose personally identifiable information to the private sector.

I covered the “can” in another post, What are our students’ privacy rights, really? The short version is that recent changes to the federal privacy law (FERPA) allow schools to disclose personally identifiable information to “school officials” without parental consent, with “school officials” being defined to include people in the private sector.

Here is the “and yes, they do” bit. And yes, they do, without even telling you. If you are a parent with a child at any of these schools, your child’s data has been released to the Community Center for Education Results. It’s for a research study aimed at increasing the number of kids ready for college in South Seattle and districts farther south in King County. 

Schools whose data was released:

  • Aki Kurose Middle School
    Arbor Heights Elementary School
    Beacon Hill International School
    Brighton Elementary School
    Cleveland High School
    Concord Elementary School
    Dearborn Park Elementary School
    Denny Middle School
    Dunlap Elementary School
    Emerson Elementary School
    Franklin High School
    Garfield High School
    Gatewood Elementary School
    Gatzert Elementary School
    Graham Hill Elementary School
    Hawthorne Elementary School
    Highland Park Elementary School
    John Muir Elementary School
    Kimball Elementary School
    Leschi Elementary School
    Madrona
    Maple Elementary School
    Mercer Middle School
    Orca @ Whitworth
    Rainier Beach High School
    Roxhill Elementary School
    Sanislo Elementary School
    Sealth High School
    Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center
    South Lake High School
    South Shore K-8 School
    Thurgood Marshall Elementary
    Van Asselt Elementary School
    Washington Middle School
    West Seattle Elementary School
    Wing Luke Elementary School

And here is a link to the authorization form signed by a previous interim superintendent, Susan Enfield, in October of 2011. It authorizes the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to release data from the 2009-2010 school year through the 2011-12 school year such as:

  • student and staff schedules
  • student enrollment and demographic information, including special programs information
  • state test data
  • student grades

If it had been available, student discipline data would also have been included.

Was it a good thing to release this data? Do the benefits of the research outweigh the privacy concerns? Was there a need to release personally identifiable data (as opposed to de-identified data)? Were enough safety precautions taken with the data? 

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know.

But I do think that parents should have had the opportunity to decide whether or not this was an appropriate release of information. However, they weren’t even notified. Nor are they being notified about the follow-up data release authorized by current superintendent Jose Banda in Sept 2012. It permits release of data through the 2019-20 school year.

Nor are they being notified that Seattle Public Schools is telling third-party organizations that they can get access to private student data. In this Power Point presentation, the district explains that they will share data as allowed by FERPA to “school officials” including “third parties to whom the school or district has outsourced institutional services or functions.”

What about the security of data, when it’s shared? The SPS Best Practices are woefully inadequate. For example: “Never send your student level data through email without it being password protected.” Sorry, but password protection just doesn’t cut it.

Have there been other releases of information?

I don’t know the answer to that, and this worries me.

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