Tools for Tailored Learning May Expose Students’ Personal Details

Tools for Tailored Learning May Expose Students’ Personal Details

If the efforts by state legislators to restrict the use of student data are any guide, the email addresses and search queries of the nation’s schoolchildren are a hot commodity.

In May, Georgia adopted a law barring online services designed for elementary through high school from selling or sharing students’ names, email addresses, test results, grades or socioeconomic or disability information. It also bars them from using the data to target students with ads.

In August, Delaware enacted a law that forbids online school services from selling students’ personal details — including their political or religious affiliations, food purchases, text messages, photos, videos and web searches — or using the information to market to them.

Those are just two of the 182 bills introduced in 46 states this year intended to bolster protections for student information, according to a report this month from Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit group that advocates the effective use of student data in education. Fifteen of those states have passed 28 laws, said the group, which is financed in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The activity stands in stark contrast to legislative interest just two years ago, when Oklahoma was the only state to pass such legislation. It also provides a clear indication of the rapid adoption of learning apps in classrooms — and of concerns that these novel technologies generate a trove of new data about students that could be used in unforeseen ways.

Many of the new tools are designed to tailor learning to each child. To achieve that sort of customization, the software may collect and analyze a vast array of details about the habits and activities of individual students.

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