New rules finalized governing access to student records

Almost a year after circulating a proposed rewrite of rules regulating the management of student data, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday adoption of the final draft.

The Obama administration had said last April that it wanted the new rules to strike a better balance between the desire to provide access to researchers and the community - and the need to protect student privacy.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he believes the new regulations reflect those needs.

Data are a powerful tool needed to improve the state of education in this country," Duncan said. "At the same time, the benefits of using student data must always be balanced with the need to protect students' privacy rights and ensure their information is protected."

The new regulations come in compliance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and are envisioned as reducing the conflict and confusion that has occurred in the past with state sunshine laws.

The new rules also fix the growing problem that schools face when confronted with requests for student information by outside institutions. When FERPA was adopted in the 1970s, it only applied to high schools and colleges or schools with students in attendance. Today, according to Duncan's office, a growing number of institutions and entities without students in attendanceâlike student lenders for exampleâhave access to student records that probably should be protected by FERPA, but are not.

The new rules will allow more data-driven decision-making and statewide longitudinal data systems - two goals of the Obama administration that have been included in such programs as Race to the Top.

Meanwhile, the administration has also established an office within the U.S. Department of Education dedicated to privacy issues.

The Privacy Technical Assistance Center offers technical assistance to state education agencies, local educational agencies, and institutions of higher education related to the privacy, security, and confidentiality of student records.

The full regulation may be found at: www.federalregister.gov.

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