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Everything I needed to know about student data, I learned in kindergarten

• Andrew Kossack

Everything I needed to know about student data, I learned in kindergarten. My son’s kindergarten class, specifically.

Recently, my wife and I experienced our first parent-teacher conference as a mom and dad. Our son’s school encourages its students to lead parent-teacher conferences, so our little five-year-old served as the official host for the evening. He told us about his favorite activities like his art and music classes. He showed us the latest words he’d learned how to read, pointed out some of the others that challenged him, and told us about how he wanted to improve as a reader. He told us about his new friends and classmates, and about the vast world beyond our little bubble on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

His teacher walked us through some of the diagnostic assessments our son had taken to gauge his progress. We learned about the letter combinations that were particularly challenging for him. We learned that we need to continue encouraging him in his reading, because he actually knew more words than he thought he did. And we worked with his teacher to figure out how to incorporate his level of math into daily activities like meals and playtime.

Thanks to our son’s teacher and her efforts to keep track of his progress, we knew vastly more about him than we knew before we walked into that meeting.  My wife and I could not hear enough about our son and how he was doing, and we were eager to apply what we’d learned at home to help him where he was struggling and cheer him on where he excelled.

What my wife and I experienced that night was the power of student data to support parental involvement, and ultimately, student learning and success.

In kindergarten and at every level of education, student educational data equips teachers, parents, and students with information about what a student has learned, their strengths and weaknesses, and their progress toward achieving their educational goals.

At the same time, as a parent, I want to be able to trust that any information about my son is protected and used solely for educational purposes. This was the subject of one of the breakout sessions at the National Summit on Education Reform titled, “Building Trust in the Classroom: Protecting Student Data Privacy and Security.” News stories of data breaches in other sectors remind us of the challenges associated with ensuring student data is private and secure. As a parent, I want assurances that my son’s educational data will be protected not only by his school, but also by any service providers that contract with his school. I don’t want companies using his educational data to sell him products, or selling that information to other companies for that purpose either. As Brendon Lynch, Chief Privacy Officer for Microsoft Corporation, said during the panel discussion, “Students are not products, and they should not be treated as such.”

Meeting data privacy and security challenges head-on is crucial to fostering a trusted environment. Parents deserve to know how their local schools and their state’s educational system are mitigating risks and preparing for contingencies. ExcelinEd has recommended several policy steps to accomplish these goals, and our Digital Learning Now! team continues to develop resources to help policymakers and school leaders meet the challenges of data privacy and security while maintaining the flexibility to implement innovative educational models.

Parents hear too much about the value of data to the education system and too little about the value of data to them and their children. I got a first-hand appreciation of that value when my wife and I sat down with our son’s teacher and charted out a joint and informed strategy that will help him succeed not only in kindergarten but in the ensuing years as well.

If you would like to explore the topic of student data in more depth, please consider registering to receive updates about our upcoming massive open online course (MOOC) on student data privacy called, “Data Privacy? Get Schooled.” The course will examine the value and uses of student data and consider a number of policy options for protecting and securing student data while also promoting the effective use of data for student learning.

About the author

Andrew Kossack

Andrew is the Deputy Policy Director for Next Generation Reform for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Previously, he served in a number of senior roles for the State of Indiana under two governors and a state superintendent of public instruction. Most recently, Kossack was General Counsel and Policy Director at the Office of Management and Budget under Governor Mike Pence. Kossack also served as Governor Pence’s first Education and Workforce Policy Director. Before joining the Office of the Governor, Kossack was Deputy Chief of Staff under Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett. His first role for the State of Indiana was under former Governor Mitch Daniels, who appointed him as the Indiana Public Access Counselor. Kossack received his undergraduate degree from Butler University and his law degree from Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where he was an editor of the Indiana Law Review.