Data Suppression: Everything You Need to Know
Certain critical data on school performance or student subject evaluations are erased or deleted through the data suppression process. This is usually done to maintain the privacy of the owners of these datasets.
Apart from students, data suppression can also help protect the privacy, identities, and personal information of individual teachers or administrators. The process is used whenever there’s a possibility that the information included in a publicly available report could be used to deduce or reveal the identities of particular individuals.
Though data suppression may appear to be similar to data masking, it’s a distinct process. Data suppression involves deleting or removing the entire information, which is commonly contained in publicly shared reports and files. In contrast, confidential information is encrypted in a database or file or concealed from view with data masking. However, individuals with the proper passwords or authorization codes can access the masked data.
When school districts and state education agencies share data with third parties like researchers or contractors or publicly, they need to take steps to safeguard individual privacy. Thus, they suppress data, such as names and social security numbers, which will directly disclose the identity of individuals. Additionally, they’ll also suppress selected information to modify datasets, which could have otherwise exposed the identities of particular students even when the data apparently contained no personally identifiable information. An example could be a small rural school that has two students of color.
In case the school records contain, for instance, graduation rates or test scores for different racial subgroups, the identity of Hispanic, African American, or Asian students could be unintentionally revealed even though the data is otherwise “anonymous.” In other words, people familiar with the school or know who the minority students are could deduce which specific students earned which test scores by simply looking at the data. This is why districts, states, and schools may suppress certain data when subgroups are extremely small, as such datasets can possibly help to connect otherwise anonymous data to particular students.
Another use of data suppression could be when reporting percentages. If a report shows that a school’s zero or 100 percent of students in a particular grade scored at a specific level in an examination, any individual familiar with the school would have learned personal information about specific students. To prevent such occurrences, state districts and education agencies typically have data suppression policies that outline data types, which need to be suppressed in particular situations.