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Forum Guide to Protecting the Privacy of Student Information: State and Local Education Agencies

Section 3: Protecting the Privacy of Individuals During the Data Collection Process


School systems must have information about their students if they are to make appropriate decisions about educational and support programs. From the time a child enters school, records begin to follow the student. Besides the information provided by the student or parent, such as basic enrollment and immunization status, school staff create a record to describe the student’s educational program, extracurricular activities, and other relevant experiences. Deciding what data to gather along the record requires careful consideration of what information is needed by the school system and how best to collect it.

However, many parents are concerned about releasing personal information to a stranger, and wonder just how many people will see the responses. Parents also are concerned when their children release information about themselves unintentionally and without understanding the consequences. In addition, school systems should take into consideration the concerns of students and their families. It is important to adhere to the principles set forth in this section irrespective of who collects the data or how and why the data are collected.


  • Outline the issues related to records privacy during the data collection process
  • Recommend policies and procedures to safeguard records privacy during this process

Key Points

  • Data collectors must justify the need for every item of information included in an individual education record.
  • Maintaining data efficiently allows data to be used for multiple purposes. However, data collectors must justify all uses under existing policies and inform data providers of these uses.
  • Data collectors should consult state and local laws, policies of school boards, and professional ethics in deciding what information to collect and maintain about students.
  • Data providers should be informed about why the information is collected and if providing such information is mandatory.
  • Data collectors should demonstrate that the data produced will be of sufficient value, applicability, and usefulness to justify the cost and burden of collecting them.
  • When data collectors choose data elements and the procedures to collect them, they should consider the quality of the data.
  • Data collectors should derive unique identification codes by a variety of methods (e.g., assigning sequential numbers or adopting algorithms to generate codes using selected characteristics).
  • Using social security numbers may be helpful to agencies or schools in maintaining appropriate and accurate information about students. However, they are considered part of education records, and school officials must protect them from illegal access and unauthorized release.
  • In addition to federal and state requirements, agencies or schools should establish policies to determine the length of time each type of data is maintained and how data will be expunged or replaced.