FERPA FAQs

Jump to a question:
  1. What if a parent contacts a faculty or staff member with concerns about how his or her child is doing in a particular class or about the child's overall academic performance or standing?
  2. What if a parent tells a faculty or staff member that he or she has already talked with the student and still has questions?
  3. Does the University have a written policy about information from student records that can be shared with parents and other third parties?
  4. What records does FERPA cover?
  5. Why could a parent access his or her child's high school records, but now does not have the same access to records maintained by the University?
  6. Does Northwestern University notify parents if a student is put on academic probation, or is subject to academic dismissal?
  7. Can a faculty member post student grades or leave graded student work outside of his or her office?
  8. Is posting grades, identified by SSN or EmpID numbers, on a website or course management system, such as Blackboard, allowed?
  9. If a student asks a faculty member or a teaching assistant for an explanation regarding his or her performance, can a faculty member compare that student's work with the work of other students?
  10. Can faculty and staff members share with each other information from a student's education records?
  11. What if a faculty or staff member receives a request for student information from a licensing or accrediting organization such as a medical licensing board or a state bar authority?
  12. Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

What if a parent contacts a faculty or staff member with concerns about how his or her child is doing in a particular class or about the child's overall academic performance or standing?

The best approach is for the parent to talk directly with the student. Parent-child communication is not always easy, and young adults are not always forthcoming as parents would like. However, parent-child conversation is the most effective and certainly the preferred method for a parent to learn about his or her child's performance.

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What if a parent tells a faculty or staff member that he or she has already talked with the student and still has questions?

In this situation, you will need the student to sign a release. Download a FERPA release form (pdf). Only after the signed release is in your possession are you free to discuss a student's performance. Of course, in doing so, the faculty or staff member cannot release any information that identifies another student.

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Does the University have a written policy about information from student records that can be shared with parents and other third parties?

Yes. See the Northwestern University FERPA Policy web page. The policy can also be found in the Undergraduate Catalog and student handbook. Information regarding FERPA is also contained in the Parent's Handbook.

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What records does FERPA cover?

The privacy protection FERPA gives to students is quite broad. With limited exceptions, FERPA gives privacy protection to all student education records. Education records are defined as "[t]hose records that are directly related to a student and [are] [m]aintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution." Examples of student records entitled to FERPA privacy protection are grade reports, transcripts and disciplinary records.

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Why could a parent access his or her child's high school records, but now does not have the same access to records maintained by the University?

Under FERPA, the access rights that parents and legal guardians had in the elementary and secondary school settings are transferred to the student once a student has turned 18 or is attending any post-secondary educational institution (regardless of the student's age and regardless of who is paying for the student's education).

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Does Northwestern University notify parents if a student is put on academic probation, or is subject to academic dismissal?

No. Information about grades and academic standing is sent directly to students. However, a letter of probation or dismissal to a student may direct the student to a FERPA relase form (pdf) and request tat he or she complete it to allow the appropriate University representative to speak with a parent. Under some circumstances, a parent will be notified of a change in a student's enrollment status, but in such event, no explanation will be provided.

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Can a faculty member post student grades or leave graded student work outside of his or her office?

No. Faculty members should not publicly display student grades or student work (e.g. papers, tests, laboratory reports), particularly in association with student names, identification numbers or other personal identifiers.

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Is posting grades, identified by SSN or EmpID numbers, on a website or course management system, such as Blackboard, allowed?

FERPA does not permit the posting of grades, using either the entire student ID number or a portion of the ID number. See this letter from the Department of Education for information on why this cannot be disclosed without written permission. Faculty members must develop a means of conveying grade information to students on an individual basis. You can use Blackboard's "gradebook" function to give grades to individual students without actually posting the whole spreadsheet for all in the class to view and revealing the other student grades. Each student has a tool called "view grades" in the toolbar, which they use to view their "row" of the grade book.

To use this function:

  •  
    • Go into Blackboard's Control Panel and choose "guidebook" (extreme right column, midway down)
    • Use the web-based gradebook instead of your spreadsheet or upload the spreadsheet you have (if it's not especially complex and has all the stduents' names in column A)

If a student asks a faculty member or a teaching assistant for an explanation regarding his or her performance, can a faculty member compare that students' work with the work of other students?

No. Although faculty members or teaching assistants can, of course, explain why a particular student performed well or poorly on a given examination or other assignment, in so doing, they should not discuss or make reference to the performance of other students. Disclosing information regarding Student A to Student B jeopardizes the privacy rights of Student A.

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Can faculty and staff members share with each other information from a student's education records?

Faculty and staff members should not share this information with one another unless the person to whom the information is disclosed has a "legitimate educational interest" in the information. To have such an interest, the faculty or staff member must have a need to know the information to perform his or her job function. Mere curiosity is insufficient to satisfy this standard.

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What if a faculty or staff member receives a request for student information from a licensing or accrediting organization such as a medical licensing board or a state bar authority?

Prior to providing any information in response to such a request, the faculty or staff member should ensure that the licensing or accrediting organization has provided proof of the student's express written consent to disclose the information requested. No information should be disclosed without the student's express written consent.

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Where can I find out more information about FERPA?

FERPA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education and more information can be found at its FERPA website.

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