Bolster student data privacy policies that advance personalized learning, report says

“Good” student data privacy policies recognize the potential to personalize learning to improve student achievement while guaranteeing safe, secure access to a limited set of student data, according to a new National Association of State Boards of Education report.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95, gives states and districts more latitude to create personalized learning strategies that can expand the use and collection of student data.

Meanwhile, individual states are responsible for collecting, storing, and processing student data, but analysts believe some state policies that have been passed in recent years to govern data privacy are helpful in some respects, while others hamper the beneficial uses of student data.

In Advancing Personalized Learning through Effective Use and Protection of Student Data, William Tucker, NASBE’s program manager for education data and technology, and Don Long, the project director for teaching, leading, and learning, examined some state policies.

Tucker and Long detailed how California, Kansas, and Louisiana created laws to address privacy concerns without constraining beneficial uses of classroom data.

Looking particularly at biometrics, which refers to the “measurement of individual physiological and behavioral characteristics” like voice recordings, facial recognition, and eye movement and motion trackers on computer software, Tucker and Long said these are identifiers that can potentially be associated with personalized learning and they explained how states handled this matter in their student privacy laws.

They said that Louisiana pairs restrictions on biometric records with an opt-in policy for parents and students.

Meanwhile, Kansas defines biometric information in its law and provides an opt-out for parents and students, while California’s law requires strict compliance for third-party vendors and regulates access to personally identifiable information while “affirming the desirability of personalized learning,” the report said.

On the other hand, Florida and New Hampshire approved privacy laws that “swung too far in the other direction,” and effectively “close the door” on personalized learning, the pair wrote. In both states, they said “biometric data restrictions could be read as prohibiting useful data collection for personalized learning.”

“Such data are incredibly personal — but for those seeking to individualize education, that’s the idea,” they wrote. “The prospect of ungoverned access to these data has raised serious concerns and corresponding advocacy and policy recommendations to address the lure of ‘personalization’ in the context of technology advances, lax regulation, and the collection of enormous amounts of personal data that overwhelm efforts to protect children’s privacy.”


To advance personalized learning, the pair said state policymakers need to develop laws and policies that balance data privacy concerns with data-sharing best practices among school leaders, teachers, parents, and students if states wish to advance personalized learning through the increased use of technology.

“Legislation that stymies personalized learning programs takes choice away from parents and students regarding their learning opportunities,” the report said. “Laws that take a more measured approach let schools track information with the proper consent of students and parents and thereby give space for personalization to schools, districts, and organizations working with them.”

The authors recommended the following actions state boards can take to foster personalized learning as well as data protection:

  • Share stories of schools using data to advance student success in their states.
  • Promote transparency about what student information is being collected and how it is used.
  • Ensure that data access and privacy policies keep up with changes in technology.
  • Convene stakeholders to collaborate on best practices in personalized learning.

Emily Ann Brown covers education technology and STEM education issues for LRP Publications.

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