Student Data: What It Is And How To Use It Responsibly

Imagine 10 million blu-ray discs stacked on top of each other. For context, that’s the size of four Eiffel Towers. According to estimates, this is roughly equivalent to 2.5 quintillion bytes of data: The amount of information the world generates in a single day.

Data, like it or not, is everywhere — K-12 education included. Sure, there may not be enough data in your school district to fill even one leg of just a single Eiffel Tower. However, there’s still plenty of student information floating around your cloud domain — more than enough to warrant greater consideration.

The truth is that a lot of files contain personal information about individual students, their parents, and their academic performance. Your district has a responsibility to use student data responsibly and keep it out of the wrong hands.

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What is student data?

Student data includes all of the information your district gathers about individual students to inform student learning and meet their specific needs. It’s important to note that this term doesn’t refer to your school district’s more general education statistics, like it’s graduation rate or enrollment. Student data specifically refers to student information, such as:

  • Education record: This can include learning assessments, test scores, attendance records, and other information related to student achievement.
  • Personal information: Personally identifiable information, such as a student’s social security number, name, address, or contact information.
  • Behavioral data: This could consist of disciplinary records and teacher observations.
  • Demographic data: Student gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Health records: Any personal information related to medical diagnoses, special education requirements, allergies, etc.

Schools collect student information for numerous reasons, such as ensuring students are meeting learning objectives, personalizing the classroom experience, or improving student outcomes. For instance, a teacher might use a particular student’s data to create an individualized lesson plan.

Privacy and security risks

Cloud apps

The vast majority of schools are using cloud apps and information technology to supplement the classroom experience and enhance student performance. Some of these may be administrative platforms while others are instructional classroom tools. No matter the purpose, cloud apps collect, process, and store student data.

Although a valuable asset, it’s important to remember that third-party data collection invariably exposes your district to risk. The more cloud apps you use, the more student information is gathered. If a vendor’s security or data privacy practices aren’t up to par, a single incident could leak data to the public, where anyone can use it without permission. Crucially, this could also put your district at risk of noncompliance with federal and state law.


However, not all data privacy risks are the fault of cloud apps and third-party vendors. Obviously, cybercrime is a major threat to student privacy, especially in the United States.

Long story short, malicious hackers are constantly targeting schools because the majority of them lack adequate cloud security. In fact, just 20% of K-12 cybersecurity budgets are allocated to protecting cloud data. Here’s more information on how cybercriminals are challenging K-12 cloud security.

Insider risk

Did you know that most data leaks in your district are accidental? It’s true: Research shows that students and staff members are usually to blame when sensitive data winds up outside the district. For instance, a teacher may unwittingly attach an education record to an email sent to an external recipient. Or, students may share personal information to a classmate who then posts it online.

[FREE] Google Workspace and/or Microsoft 365 Security Audit. Learn More & Claim >>

How to use student data responsibly

So, is student data collection wrong? The short answer is no — at least, not if you do it for the right reasons. If you’re an educator, data can be one of the most powerful resources for accelerating learning and improving student performance.

Take Randall Sampson, who recently shared his story with EdTech Magazine, for example. As a former administrator at Westerville City School District in Ohio, Sampson curated data to improve student achievement. By analyzing the data, Sampson and his school raised Black student enrollment in AP classes and saw a 35% increase in AP exam scores.

Sampson’s work is a testament to the value of student data. However, sensitive information needs to be treated with care and respect. Here are a few best practices for handling student records responsibly:

  • Access management: Make sure only the necessary stakeholders have access to certain types of data. You don’t want students accessing a classmate’s education record or downloading their report card.
  • Compliance: Align your data privacy policies with state law. This ensures you’re always compliant with regulations and have a solid framework for protecting student data.
  • Digital literacy: Teach students and staff the basics of data privacy and security. Everyone who has access to sensitive information should know how to use it effectively and ethically.

Secure your student data today

As previously mentioned, many schools lack any type of cloud security. In other words, they have nothing standing between them and a serious data loss incident. You need a tool that can help you safeguard student data, keep cloud apps in check, and mitigate risks as quickly as possible.

That’s exactly what you get with an automated cloud security platform like ManagedMethods. As an additional layer of security, ManagedMethods can audit your Google Workspace or Microsoft 365 domains and uncover any risks lurking behind the scenes. Whether it’s an unsanctioned app or an improperly shared file, you’ll know about possible danger within minutes. Plus, with the power of automation, you can rest assured that you’re always well-protected against threats of all shapes and sizes.

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