State Lawmakers Push Measures to Increase Transparency of School Data

Staff Writer

As online instruction continues to evolve and gain more importance in schools, many state lawmakers are pressing to make the data collected by states and districts more transparent and useful for students and parents.  

That’s the conclusion of a new report by the Data Quality Campaign, which reviewed a wave of state legislative measures with very different goals that were taken up this year.

The report from the organization, a national nonprofit advocacy group, tracked state education data legislation introduced during the 2022 session, highlighting new policy goals by lawmakers around the country. 

From the beginning of the year through July, state legislators introduced 131 bills that in some way affect school data in 35 states.

The goals of the state measures include establishing cross-agency data governance, encouraging more community feedback, and disaggregating data to identity opportunity gaps in academic achievement.

Increasing Data Literacy 

The report finds that more than half of the bills the Data Quality Campaign tracked in 2022 included measures designed to increase public access to data — in particular creating more transparency for students, families, and the public. 

Sixteen bills sought to make data more accessible to students, 18 pieces of legislation increased data accessibility for families, and 40 bills were focused on overall public access. 

Other bills focused on increasing transparency of data from a variety of sources, from district academic report cards to college pricing to school data on suspensions and expulsions. 

“For many years, many of these data policies were focused on generating data specifically for a policymaker audience,” said Taryn Hochleitner, associate director for policy and advocacy at the Data Quality Campaign. “But we’ve also been calling for more attention [on making sure students and families are] empowered with information to make decisions.”

New legislation also seeks to prioritize data focused on issues outside of the classroom, including school climate, attendance, and discipline patterns.  

The need for that information has increased during the pandemic, as school officials have sought to get a clearer view of various academic and non-academic factors shaping students’ learning experiences, Hochleitner said. 

Data privacy policies must evolve with data practices, and state leaders should regularly revisit existing student data privacy policies to determine where updates need to be made to account for changes in technology and classroom data use.Education Data Legislation Review 2022, Data Quality Campaign

Increasing the public’s access to district- and school-level data can have the benefit of raising public understanding of its value, said Irene Ly, policy counsel at Common Sense Media, an organization that advocates for child-friendly policies and laws regarding media.  

It can also compel companies to adopt practices to more closely protect student data, she added. 

Increased conversations among students, parents, and schools can “pressure companies to start trying to do the right thing and being a little bit more smart or careful about data,” Ly said. The hope is that momentum behind how data is handled will build to a point where “knowledge from students and schools will influence these companies to becoming more proactive in thinking how they can change their data practices.” 

Protecting Student Privacy 

Hochleitner has seen an increase in the regulations imposed on ed-tech providers, especially as school districts have been hit by large-scale data breaches. 

Those incidents have contributed to state lawmakers’ interest in protecting student data privacy, she said. 

New state legislation is focused on creating more transparency and public access to data on school performance and other policies.
Over the past decade, many states have enacted new student data privacy laws meant to protect student information. More than half the states now govern the attributes of service providers, mostly restricting their ability to use student data for commercial purposes, she said. 

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to ed-tech companies that there would be stricter enforcement against those who violate federal children’s privacy rights laws. The statement reiterated that companies who violate the law can be hit with fines and restrictions on their business practices. 

“Data privacy policies must evolve with data practices, and state leaders should regularly revisit existing student data privacy policies to determine where updates need to be made to account for changes in technology and classroom data use,” says the Data Quality Campaign’s report. 

Of the bills tracked in 2022, seven sought to revisit existing data privacy policies to account for new practices this year. 

One of the states changing its privacy laws to cover new data needs is Maryland, where leaders have codified recommendations of the Student Data Privacy Council. These recommendations came from a study of the implementation of the state’s 2015 privacy law and called for clarifying certain definitions to account for new uses of student information, including disciplinary information and online behavior. 

“Especially for tech companies who provide service to different states where regulations and laws may differ, it’s important for them to stay in the loop and to pay attention to where the data conversation is going,” Hochleitner said. 

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