States scramble to protect student data and privacy

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By Sarah Breitenbach, reporter, Stateline/Pew Charitable Trusts |

What if a child’s performance in a fifth-grade gym class could be used to set the rate for a life insurance policy when they’re 50? What if a computer program advertised interactive tutoring when your child struggled with long division?

Privacy advocates worry these scenarios could become reality as schools increasingly rely on outside companies to collect, manage and analyze the massive amount of data gleaned from standardized tests, transcripts, individual education programs and even cafeteria purchases.

This subcontracting is not new or uncommon, but it has often left school districts without explicit control over students’ personal information. And it has left some parents, administrators and privacy advocates worried that those companies might one day sell or mine the data for a profit.

With few protections on the privacy of student data beyond a decades-old federal law, states have been scrambling to regulate how student data is collected and stored. More recently they’ve begun governing how third-party companies can use student information.

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