Data Security for Teachers

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Video Transcript

Hey everyone, in this video, I am going to be talking about a very important yet often overlooked issue for new data analysis – data security. My name is Matthew Courtney. I am an education researcher and data consultant specializing in data use for continuous improvement in schools. In this video, I want to share some dos and don’ts of data security for teachers.

The extra steps that you take to maintain secure data sources are ultimately about protecting your students. Teachers have access to a wide range of information on the students under their care. If this data gets into the wrong hands it can cause difficulties for students for years to come.

Data security is everyone’s job. In our increasingly digital age, you must be more vigilant than ever to protect your students’ personal information. While protecting your students, you should also know the law. There are three laws that cover most student information, they are the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). I am not going to examine these laws in detail in this video, but you should make yourself familiar with them. In short – you should not have access to information about a student that you do not need to do your job, and you shouldn’t share information about a student with anyone other than the student and their parents.

Your district probably has an acceptable use policy for student data already in place. It is probably mentioned on one of the five hundred pieces of paper you signed when you accepted your position. You should take some time to re-acquaint yourself with that policy and make sure that you are always following the rules and regulations of your organization – regardless of what I say here…

Let’s dive into some dos and don’ts.

Do control who has access to your data. Access to student data should be tightly controlled. In addition to the steps taken by your school or district, teachers should take care to ensure that their own data collection systems are controlled. This includes seemingly mundane items, like your paper gradebook or student work portfolios.

This topic brings me to one of my greatest pet-peeves in the world of education data. Don’t post data on the wall! All student data should be stored securely and privately. When you post student data on the wall, whether it is a sheet of assessment grades outside your door or a color-coded data wall in the teacher workroom, you are unable to control who has access to the information.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t share information about your students. Do share summaries of your data with your colleagues, families, and other stakeholders. The key word here is summaries. You want to take time to analyze the data, calculate some summary statistics, and prepare a report for distribution. If you’re unsure how to do that, check out the free auto-analysis tools that I have on my website. They will help you to create summary reports quickly and accurately.

When you prepare your reports, make sure that you don’t share worksheets that include PII or personally identifiable information. Most worksheets that you access from education databases will include some forms of PII, such as addresses, phone numbers, or social security numbers. You should also consider suppressing data that is connected with small groups of students. For example, if you only have one student in your class who is identified as an English Learner, reporting on the average English Learner test score in your class will allow others to quickly identify the performance of your student.

When you track your data – do store it in a password-controlled system. You should not have dozens of Excel icons stored on your computer desktop. Locally stored student data should be placed in a folder on a computer terminal that is regularly locked when not in use. If you have access to a locally controlled server, it is an even better idea to store your data there. It will have extra protections and will be backed up regularly.

It is important that your data work is collaborative. Don’t share data with your colleagues over email. Email is not as secure as you think it is – and you can’t control who that email might be forwarded on to. Instead, store data in a local server or secure cloud-based storage solution and share the link to the data instead. Make sure you set your security settings to require the recipient to log-in to access the data – and be extra careful not to share every file in your cloud-based folder with the recipient.

When you are working with your data, do allow students to participate in the data analysis process. It will help them to know where they are in their own learning and to begin to develop the metacognitive and self-regulatory skills necessary to be successful in school. But be careful – don’t allow students to have access to information about other students. It may be beneficial for a student to compare their own performance to the summary report we discussed earlier, but they should not be involved in creating that summary report. Remember: only the individual student and their parents should have access to their data.

Finally, do broaden your definition of data and regularly review it. Remember that data is more than a series of static numbers on a spreadsheet. In our digital age, data is a living organism that is constantly changing and updating. Teachers will benefit from collecting a wide range of data and regularly reviewing it to see what stories it has to tell you.

For more information about how you can use data to enhance student learning, subscribe to my channel or visit

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