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

3.C. Ensuring Data Integrity and Accuracy

Data collectors may promote data integrity and accuracy by:

  • making sure data providers understand the importance of the data; and
  • designing the data collection activity and training survey staff to respect the dignity of the respondents.

An important consideration in choosing data elements and the procedures to collect data is the quality of the data that will be received. Data integrity means that the information provided is complete and unchanging; data accuracy means that the information is correct.

Two issues are important in ensuring data integrity and accuracy. The first is the degree to which the data provider (usually the student or parent) supports the data collection. It is important for students and their parents to know if the data being requested are required by law or for the purposes of ensuring that certain services can be received by the child. It is important for parents to understand when failure to provide accurate and complete data may result in the denial of benefits (e.g., immunization records required to enroll a child in school). For most data elements or data collection forms, school officials should inform students and their parents why the data are important and how they will and will not be used. Written assurances of data confidentiality often alleviate concerns and elicit more cooperation, but not in all cases. Data collectors should be prepared to openly and thoroughly respond to hard questions raised by parents and privacy advocates.

A second issue that can affect data integrity and accuracy is the design of the data collection activity and the training provided to data collectors. Training is important for all staff who might be involved in collecting student information, regardless of the purposes. Such staff may include teachers, school secretaries, school nurses, guidance counselors, principals, and evaluators. Areas that should be included in staff training are:

  • the distinction between collecting data that are mandatory and those that are voluntary, and the options of the student or parent regarding provision of the data;
  • the ethical and legal responsibilities of staff to prevent unauthorized use or disclosure of data; and
  • the ways staff can obtain explanations or other help while collecting the data.

The training could focus on how the questions or requests for information may be stated by the staff person to ensure that the request is clear and the data can be collected consistently from all individuals. For instance, it is important for data collection procedures to ensure that parents and students have the opportunity to provide accurate answers regardless of their language, cultural, or educational backgrounds. Staff should be sensitive to and respectful of respondents’ privacy and their possible reluctance to answer a question. The information belongs to the individual; school personnel are just “borrowing” it.