The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs the protection and permissible uses by authorized representatives of student administrative data, including the disclosure and transfer of personally identifiable information (PII) in education records. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released revised regulations December, 2011 to reconcile the statute with other federal laws that incented the development and use of state longitudinal data systems (SLDS):

  • The America COMPETES Act, which authorized grants to states to develop SLDS linking PK-12 and postsecondary data.
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which included an assurance for states receiving funds through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund that they maintain an SLDS.

Department of Education publishes revised FERPA regulations (Dec. 1, 2011)

Key amendments made in the FERPA revision impacting education researchers:

  • Defined “authorized representative” to include FERPA-permitted entities to engage in evaluation or audits of federal and state education programs;
  • Defined “education program” to include entities that are “principally involved” in education, ranging from early childhood education to postsecondary education, and inclusive of career and technical training;
  • Clarified that FERPA does not prevent the redisclosure of PII as part of agreements from FERPA-permitted entities to researchers to conduct studies for, and on behalf of, educational agencies and institutions;
  • Provided that FERPA-permitted entities use reasonable methods to ensure to the greatest extent practicable that authorized representatives comply with FERPA;
  • Required the use of a written agreement in designating an authorized representative for allowing access to PII without prior written consent in connection with an audit, evaluation, compliance, or enforcement activity; and
  • Established a penalty that would prohibit education agencies and institutions from permitting third parties to access PII for five years if the third party has been deemed by ED’s Family Policy Compliance Office to have improperly redisclosed PII.

A best practices guide was also included to assist in developing reasonable methods and written agreements: “Guidance for Reasonable Methods and Written Agreements”

AERA Action

AERA supported ED’s efforts to revise FERPA to more easily facilitate data linkages and sharing to support the research community, while maintaining the balance over concerns of the improper disclosure of students’ PII. As such, AERA, along with other partners in the scientific community, submitted comments to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in May, 2011 to inform the revision of FERPA.

AERA Comments on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Submitted to Federal Register (May 24, 2011)

Additional Resources