New Bill Would Examine Student Privacy In Washington State

Jan 16, 2014

A bill introduced in the state Legislature this week calls for a study into how much student data is being released without families’ knowledge or consent.

Rep. Elizabeth Scott, D-Monroe, sponsored the bill, which has bipartisan support.

Its stated goal is to help the Legislature decide whether the state should rein in the amount of information it’s collecting and giving out about students.

Scott is on the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee. She says the growing degree of student data collection reminds her of her years teaching in China.

“The individual student tracking that took place there, even 20 years ago, was horrifying to me," Scott said. "So when parents began calling me with these similar concerns, I started looking into it more and decided it’s time our state get behind this more and do everything we can to protect our students’ privacy."

Student privacy is governed by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. But Scott says she’s troubled by changes to that law in recent years that allow personally-identifiable data to be shared with private companies without parental consent.

She points to federal and multi-state initiatives like the new Common Core State Standards, which increase the amount of data being gathered on students.

Data collection now begins before kids start elementary school and extends beyond high school. "I mean, this is the most extensive tracking of American citizens ever," Scott said.

Some critics of Scott’s bill say it doesn’t go far enough to protect privacy.

They point to recent laws in four states that limit those states’ ability to collect or release students’ personally-identifiable data.

But other critics say such data collection is important and that looking at individual student data over time helps inform education policy decisions.

The House Education Committee is scheduled to take up the bill next Wednesday.