Portland State University Researchers Cancel Presentation of a Research Project That May Have Used Federally-Protected Student Data Without Permission

PSU says it is continuing to review whether any laws were broken.

The Portland State University researchers behind a project that asked teaching candidates in the Graduate School of Education to harvest personal data on thousands of Portland-area K-12 public-school students have cancelled a planned presentation of that research scheduled for April 16.

PSU professors discontinued a project that may have violated federal law after WW published a report Wednesday exposing concerns raised by graduate students and faculty members that had gone ignored for nearly two years.

PSU professors Gayle Thieman, Susan Lenski, Maika Yeigh and Bernd Richard Ferner decided Friday to cancel the presentation of a paper titled "Assessing Preservice Teachers' Equitable Impact on Secondary Student Learning."

They had planned to present the abstract at a American Educational Research Association conference in New York City next month.

The paper relied on demographic data collected by student teachers placed in K-12 schools in the Portland area.

Related: PSU researchers may have violated federal law by using the personal data of thousands of Portland-area K-12 students.

Professors asked every teaching candidate in the program to collect the data during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years as part of a required teaching methods course. There were about 120 Portland State student teachers placed in Portland-area classrooms across 15 school districts during that time period.

Some graduate students refused to participate in the assignment, raising concerns that the data collection would violate a federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Portland State officials say they are continuing to review whether the project violated federal law.

"The protection of research integrity and the privacy of student records are of highest importance to PSU," university officials say today in statement. "In addition to the reviews administrators and faculty leaders have already conducted and improvements made regarding FERPA training, PSU continues to assess what happened in this particular case. We plan to use what we learn to strengthen our processes as they relate to FERPA training and the integrity of PSU research."

Parents who think their children's data may have been illegally collected can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.