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

3.A. Determining the Agency’s Student Data Needs and Uses

Usually, data are collected because they are:

  • used to aid in the placement of students;
  • used to determine student progress and student needs;
  • required by laws or regulations;
  • used to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency; and
  • needed for accountability and funding decisions.

Other data about individual students are collected to determine their progress, place them into appropriate learning experiences, and otherwise assist the school in meeting the needs of the students. Still other types of data are collected to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency and are justified under school board or state board of education policy.

When data about students are aggregated, information may be used for program accountability and funding decisions. Each piece of information included in an education record should represent a clear and important need for obtaining and recording that information. Schools, school districts, and state education agencies may need student data for the following major administrative purposes:

    Instruction—Teachers and other staff members also need student-level information to ensure that students receive appropriate instruction and services. For example, teachers need to know how to contact parents, and they need information about a student’s previous educational experiences and special needs to help plan instruction. Counselors need to know what courses students have taken in order to plan their educational programs. Personally identifiable data, thus, are needed for instructional decisions.

    Accountability—Answering the questions of parents, policymakers, and other participants in the education enterprise about students’ accomplishments and the effectiveness of schools has become an important function of data collected by schools. Reporting functions generally do not require personally identifiable data. However, some personally identifiable data are needed in order to carry out longitudinal analyses that may be crucial in assessing a program’s effectiveness.

    Management—Schools, districts, and state education agencies use data about students to assist in the planning and scheduling of educational programs and the distribution of resources (e.g., fiscal, staffing, and materials). Management functions generally do not require personally identifiable information.

    Research and Evaluation—Schools, as well as local, state, and federal education agencies, conduct analyses of program effectiveness, the success of subgroups of students, and changes in achievement over time to identify effective instructional strategies and to promote school improvement activities. These data may or may not be personally identifiable.

    Operations—Schools and districts need data to ensure the efficiency of their day-to-day functioning. For example, schools must maintain attendance records, handle students’ health problems, and operate transportation and food service programs. Personally identifiable data are needed for such operations.

Efficient maintenance of data about individual students allows data needed for one purpose to be used for other appropriate purposes. However, the uses must be justified under existing policies, and data providers should be informed of these uses. For example, information about a student’s home language collected for required aggregate federal reporting could also be used in the evaluation of a school’s language programs. In these instances, personally identifiable information that is used for the analyses cannot be publicly released without written approval from the parents.