U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced changes Thursday to the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, governing the privacy of student educational data and records.
Duncan said new regulations will allow schools to uses "routine" information without getting prior consent, while preventing "misuse or abuse" of student information.
"Data are a powerful tool needed to improve the state of education in this country," Duncan said in a statement Thursday. "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."
Officials said the changes should clarify FERPA rules and will help policy makers determine the effectiveness of state- and federally funded programs.
Tennessee scored above the national average and was lauded as a national leader for its availability and use of data to improve public education, a new report says.
In releasing its seventh annual state analysis Thursday, the Data Quality Campaign gave Tennessee a score of seven out of 10 for its use of student and teacher data. That's markedly higher than the national average score of 4.6.
"From what we know of Tennessee, it's definitely a leader in the nation," said Paige Kowlaski, director of state policy initiatives for the Data Quality Campaign. "They've embraced data as part of their strategy."
Later in the day, the U.S. Department of Education announced changes to the federal law regulating the use and disclosure of student data and records.
The Data Quality Campaign is a national nonprofit that exists "to encourage and support state policymakers to improve the availability and use of high-quality education data to improve student achievement," according to the group's website.
The report said Tennessee was among six states - including Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina - that share teacher effectiveness information with state teacher-training programs.
Tennessee has long collected student and teacher data like most other states, but Kowlaski said recent efforts to include "value-added" scores in teacher evaluations show political and policy leadership. Teachers receive a value-added score to show students' year to year improvements on state tests.
Kelli Gauthier, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education, said providing quick access to data is at the forefront of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman's mind.
"That goes along with one of the key strategies of the commissioner's strategic plan, which is to get information and data to people," she said. "Any data or information we have, we want to get it to stakeholders as soon as possible. Historically, it's taken too long."
Kowlaski said most states collect such data, but aren't adept at actually using it to improve student learning.
"We don't really believe in collecting data for the sake of collecting data," she said.
The campaign wants states to collect data that can follow a student's progress over time, and then make that data readily available for teachers, principals, parents and even the students themselves.
Aimee Guidera, executive director of the campaign, said teachers can use data to tailor their classroom instruction, making it the "most powerful tool in their arsenal."
Much work is yet to be completed. Thirty-eight states have not established policies about sharing data across agencies, and 42 states do not require data literacy training for teachers and principals, the analysis states.
Still, Guidera said, data collection, analysis and its practical uses will be a continual process for states and school systems.
"This data stuff isn't a project," she said. "You're never going to be done learning how to use data."