FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, established in 1974, often has to be considered when planning to conduct research involving the use of educational records. While FERPA seeks to provide parents or students with the rights to inspect files and request the correction of information as needed, the law also acts to ensure the privacy of student records.
This guarantee of confidentiality of educational records often, by its very nature, has repercussions on those who wish to conduct research on educational practices. While schools can release directory information without explicit consent, all other information is protected.
Student academic records, including tests, journals, written assignments etc., are considered part of the student’s academic record. FERPA requirements apply to investigators conducting research involving academic information even when this information is obtained from their own students.
Those who wish to obtain data from educational records beyond directory information, for the purposes of research, are generally limited to three options:
When planning to conduct research involving educational records, the FERPA exception letter should be submitted to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) along with the IRB application. In most cases involving educational records held by elementary and secondary schools, this letter should come from the school district’s superintendent. The University Registrar is usually the official from whom this letter should come for research involving educational records held by a university. The use of personal, identifiable data for research purposes must always be approved by the IRB prior to the researcher obtaining access to such data.
Additional information on FERPA may be found at the website of the Department of Education at https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/resources/family-educational-rights-and-privacy-act-regulations-ferpa
For specific questions regarding FERPA and research, please contact Dr. Steelman, the IRB Chairperson.