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Crisis Data Management: A Forum Guide to Collecting and Managing Data About Displaced Students
NCES 2010-804
February 2010

Chapter 3. During a Crisis: Collecting and Disseminating Data About Displaced Students—Data System Assessment

The first data-related task for an organization directly affected by a crisis is to inventory all systems and determine whether any data have been lost or otherwise made inaccessible.

For agencies directly affected by a crisis, locating or restoring existing student data will likely precede all other data-related activities. As such, the first task will be to inventory data systems and determine whether any critical data have been lost or otherwise made inaccessible. Once the availability and security of data systems has been confirmed, responders should assess whether students have been displaced. If so, local education agencies should begin to collect and share data to help identify these students. This exchange of data between agencies is necessary to minimize the interruption of educational services to displaced students. Related agencies, including local, state, and federal authorities, should follow their disaster recovery plans to facilitate and otherwise assist in these critical data activities.

  • Retrieve and restore lost data. For organizations directly affected by a crisis, data and/or records may be lost temporarily or permanently. If a school or LEA loses both electronic and paper student records, an alternative source of this information will have to be identified. The LEA's offsite backup should be the first source; however, if backup records are not immediately accessible, the SEA may have a data warehouse with some, if not all, of the data.
  • Recommendation:
    Use a formal chain of communication between agencies to initiate a collection of displaced student identifiers.

    Communicating guidance on the use of crisis indicators. After a crisis is declared, education authorities should officially communicate that a displaced student data collection has begun. For example, in a large-scale crisis, SEAs inform LEAs, which then advise schools to adjust enrollment collections and submit data with the agreed-upon displaced student indicator. Relevant disaster code values (e.g., 01 = Hurricane Rita) and data collection timelines should be conveyed to specifically identify the event. Data entry staff need to be made aware of appropriate code set values so they can follow procedures established during crisis planning and record the information in the student information system. As always, administrators should remind staff that urgency does not justify decreases in data quality and that accurate data are especially important during a crisis. All available methods of communication should be considered if regular telecommunication, internet, mail, and other services are interrupted during the disaster.
  • Sharing data. During a crisis, data must be shared quickly across many levels of the education system. As students move, for example, their educational records need to accompany them in a timely manner to ensure the delivery of educational services without delay. Similarly, as agencies request financial assistance to serve new students, counts of displaced students need to be reported and confirmed promptly if resources are to reach students and schools that need them.
    • Recommendation:
      Even during a crisis, data users must respect and protect the confidentiality of education data.

      Individual Student Records: Individual student data must move quickly between agencies to guarantee the continuation of educational services to displaced students. Because these records are essential to a student's educational placement, the ability to exchange this information quickly and accurately is of the utmost importance. However, urgency is not necessarily more important than confidentiality. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records, is relevant even during a crisis. Most states and many local education agencies have similar laws, regulations, and policies.
    • Recommendation:
      During a crisis, staff should be prepared to query and analyze aggregate data in a variety of ways to support decisionmaking.

      Aggregate Data: In order to effectively manage educational, staffing, and financial resources, aggregate counts of displaced students may be requested by planning and oversight authorities. As with other types of data, aggregate counts may be needed on a different timeframe during a crisis than at other times. Staff should be prepared to query and analyze aggregate data in a variety of ways to support this decisionmaking.
  • Recommendation:
    SEAs may consider using a temporary database to help share displaced student data during a crisis.

    Brokering data exchange. When a large number of students enter or exit a district or state in a short time, local resources and regular data-sharing processes may not be able to handle the increased demand. When this occurs, alternative means of sharing records will be necessary. SEAs may consider creating a temporary application or database to facilitate sharing student data with the LEAs and schools tasked with enrolling displaced students. Such a temporary database could also collect information about nonpublic students and schools. Of course, confidentiality and data quality issues are more easily controlled in a hosted data system than in a temporary system. Secure data systems that provide basic information about displaced students can support proper placement and service delivery, but several questions must be addressed before embarking on these alternative means for sharing data:
    • Where will the databases be stored?
    • How will the data be secured?
    • How will confidentiality be ensured?
    • Will the agency be permitted to engage in a quick procurement process for immediate data services?
    • Will software vendors support an abbreviated procurement process and changes in procedures?

File format is an important aspect of data exchange. New file formats are sometimes required for new or temporary data collected or shared during a crisis. For example, if an agency collects enrollment data four times each year and a crisis occurs between collections, the agency may need current enrollment data and, therefore, add a collection to the regular cycle. This data collection could use the same format and system as scheduled collections, or it could use a new format that facilitates more timely response and accommodates uncertainty in regular reporting methods.

Temporary databases

Louisiana created a temporary database after many of its students relocated to Texas and Mississippi. This choice decreased the data burden for school districts in all three states.