Privacy and Security

How to safeguard student education data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ray Ackerlund

CREDIT Skyward protecting student dataWith more than 90 percent of school districts in the United States electronically storing data on students’ attendance to test scores and everything in between, safeguarding student information is a topic that is necessary to address.

What information is being stored? Who is seeing all this data? Who is making sure it doesn’t get taken?

The protection of student data involves two elements: privacy and security. Privacy is the main topic of recent discussions, but the security of student data is an element that is equally important.

Providing the privacy of student data is a challenge facing districts across the country. Maintaining a high level of privacy requires collaboration between districts and vendors. Some efforts districts can take to ensure maximum privacy are:

  • Organize strict security access to ensure data access is consistent with FERPA requirements.
  • Confirm integration with third-party vendors is well defined and limited to the data they are authorized to access through written contracts and agreements.
  • Discuss the importance of data privacy with staff on a regular basis.
  • Conduct routine security audits to ensure roles have proper security, and appropriate staff is assigned to these roles or groups.
  • Establish a defined process to properly remove an employee from network and application security when he or she leaves a district.
  • Have a strong knowledge of FERPA and COPPA guidelines, and know appropriate times when student data can be shared.
  • Confirm backup policies include safeguarding copies of data in remote locations.
  • Clearly communicate with parents about data policies and usage.

Security is of the utmost importance to guarantee privacy is sustained. Each time a story appears about the loss of personal information in the consumer market, the fault is usually attributed to improper management or malicious attacks on security. Without proper security measures, student data is always at risk.

Without proper security measures, student data is always at risk.

Only a short time ago, on-premise storage was the most common backup choice. However, that has been surpassed by cloud-based solutions in the past five years, with 95 percent of districts relying on this strategy according to The Fordham Law study.

Cloud services provide a diverse range of functions, including data mining for student performance, support for classroom activities and student guidance, as well as special services such as cafeteria payments and transportation planning. Beyond the value of off-loading the maintenance and cost of on-premise hosting, one major benefit is data security and privacy protection, since direct data access is controlled and monitored by the cloud provider.

When considering cloud-based data storage approach, districts should follow these guidelines in selecting a provider:

  • Ensure they meet recommended standards, with a SSAE 16 standard as a minimum.
  • Provide database management and monitoring services.
  • Provide database updating and application updating.
  • Maintain multiple data centers with redundant failover.
  • Continually monitor industry standards to ensure latest protection and security recommendations are being followed.

Student data has the potential to make a huge impact on the way educators teach. Having earlier academic intervention, improving student performance and creating more personalized learning will advance education and the way our students learn.

Ray Ackerlund (@RayAckerlund) is the Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for Skyward, Inc. With the company for more than 20 years, Ray guides the strategic execution of marketing and product vision for Skyward’s administrative software exclusively designed for K-12 school districts. The software serves more than 5 million students and 1,700 school districts worldwide. For more information about student data privacy and security guidelines, visit: http://www.skyward.com/protectyourdata.

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