Your grades are more than just a letter or number stored in a teacher’s grade book. In fact, grades are official documents recognized by the highest level of the law in the US.
Long gone are the days when a teacher might post a list of grades outside the classroom door or announce who passed or failed out loud during class.
As a student, you have a right to privacy and to determine what personal information is shared by your school and who is allowed access. If you attend a publicly funded college, your school's administration and staff are held to particularly high standards regarding student records.
The most important regulation protecting your information is known as FERPA.
Here, we'll answer the question “what is FERPA?”, provide insight into its requirements, and discuss how you can find more information on grade confidentiality.
What is FERPA?
The Family Educational Privacy Act (FERPA), sometimes called the Buckley Amendment, is the law that protects student information.
Any record that a school maintains on a student is protected under this law. Your test grades, GPA, and standardized testing scores all fall under the umbrella of FERPA, leading them to be classified as private information that cannot be released to others unless you give consent.
What Information can be Released?
There are two main types of information that educators have access to: directory information and personally identifiable information.
Directory information is not protected by FERPA and includes:
Name, address, telephone number
Dates of attendance, major, enrollment status
Degrees, honors, and awards received
This information isn't protected by FERPA as it's not generally considered an invasion of privacy or harmful to have these details shared.
Personally identifiable information, on the other hand, is information that can be traced to your identity. This information is protected.
Although FERPA does not consider directory info as 'protected' like grades, GPA, academic transcripts, and disciplinary records, it does give you the right to "opt-out" of sharing this information if you would like to do so.
Do all Schools have to follow FERPA?
Not every school is subject to federal confidentiality laws when it comes to grades.
FERPA only covers any public or private school that receives federal funding of any kind. These schools are required to follow special privacy laws that apply to both written and computerized student records.
Additionally, many states have their own privacy laws that work alongside FERPA.
Generally speaking, these laws require all information to be kept confidential. The big exception here is if you give written permission to have your information shared with someone.
If you are at all concerned about the privacy of your grades or personal information, you might consider doing some research on your specific state laws. Your school resource center should have this information on hand for you.
Do my Parents have the Right to See my Grades?
If you're a minor, no special consent is needed for your parents to view your grades. They can access your information without needing your permission.
However, students who are 18 years or older and are attending college have more say in who has access to their information. In most cases, you must give written consent for the release of grades and other data before your parents can gain access.
This is important to know, especially if you are wanting to gain autonomy or a stronger sense of privacy.
Who Else has the Right to Access my Grades?
Educators are never allowed to release grade information to other students or those who do not have your consent. FERPA only allows students, parents, and educationally interested school officials access to private records.
In general, the following can fall under this umbrella:
And again, in many cases, your consent must be given before access is given.
What Other Rights do I have under FERPA?
There are a handful of reasons you or others may need to access your school records. For example, students and parents of minors are able to review records for accuracy and checking that all information is up-to-date.
Each education agency is required to send a notification out annually with instructions and information notifying recipients of their rights under the policy. This notification often also contains detailed information regarding how to amend inaccurate records.
Exceptions to Student Record Privacy Laws
In some special cases, schools may be allowed to release student records without express permission.
For example, let's say you are planning on transferring to another university. In order to be accepted, the college admissions department would need access to your transcript and other information.
Authorized legal officials with a subpoena can also bypass FERPA. From time to time, the school district may also perform audits on student performance that require this information, as well.
And once again, parents of adult students are allowed access to student records, but only if they have received written consent from the student.
Learning More About your Privacy Rights
You have a right to privacy and to decide who has access to your information including your grades.
If you wish to learn more about your privacy rights under FERPA, your school is required to provide you with additional information. In many cases, your headmaster or school principal is an excellent point of contact you can connect with to obtain this knowledge. Your school advisor is another person that you can turn to with questions about student record protection.
You can also access more information online at the Department of Education’s official website.