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Congress Considers Changes to FERPA
 
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February 2015

Congress is considering changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that could further limit researcher access to student record data, consonant with confidentiality protections. FERPA is the long-standing law that protects student record data. It was enacted in 1974 and updated twice in the past decade—in 2008 and 2011—through regulatory changes by the U.S. Department of Education.

On February 12, the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing to examine how emerging technology affects student privacy. Among the witnesses was AERA member Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer of the Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, La

A potential provision in the law would allow parents to withhold their children’s records from inclusion in data systems outside the school.

“Such a provision could have a damaging impact on the quality of the data available to states and school districts using such information and for researchers seeking to examine what accounts for academic achievement and successful school experiences of students,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “AERA is aiming to be helpful in this reexamination process. It is important for policymakers, parents, and the general public to understand the value of complete information, the potential problems of small and unrepresentative samples, and the years of built experience in allowing restricted access to data and protecting privacy through confidentiality mechanisms and provisions.”

AERA is actively involved in the discussion of FERPA on Capitol Hill and in the federal agencies, recommending ways that the provision might be drafted to best protect the privacy rights of students while facilitating accurate and complete administrative record keeping for states and access to the data for qualified researchers and others working for or on behalf of school districts and state agencies.

FERPA has long been an area of focus for AERA. In 2008, Levine chaired a workshop on Protecting Student Records and Facilitating Education Research, convened by the National Research Council, that led to a 2009 report on FERPA.

Student data privacy has been an issue of growing interest not only on Capitol Hill but also in the Obama administration. As reported last month in AERA Highlights, President Obama recently announced a plan to protect data collected by education technology vendors.

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