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I went to a large public state school for undergrad. In most of my classes, great measures were taken to keep assignment and exam grades private. When I became a TA, I had to complete a privacy/FERPA training that detailed exactly how assignments could be stored, returned, etc.

There was the occasional instructor that had free-for-alls with students digging through piles of assignments with grades written on the front. However, this wasn't the norm, with most assignments being returned by request at office hours, or having the grade written on the second page.

I recently started attending a well-known private school for my master's degree. With one exception, all of the classes with paper homework assignments have been returned either in the free-for-all method, or in large drawers in an open part of a campus building that can be accessed by anyone at the school. Personally, I'm past the point of caring if other people happen to see a homework grade of mine, but it was just a bit surprising for me based on my previous experience.

Is allowing other students to see assignment/exam grades a violation of FERPA or did my previous school simply have more strict institutional privacy guidelines? What is a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding homework and exams?

Edit: Both institutions are US-based

  • 5
    You are right that these are FERPA violations. Apparently, your new school does not have an adequate culture of compliance. – Buzz Nov 1 '18 at 7:35
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    Although I am sympathetic to the good old times when you actually could permit yourself to do so, under today's compliance rules, this is not permitted. – Captain Emacs Nov 1 '18 at 7:52
  • This must be a country specific question so it would help others to clearly specify the country... – Solar Mike Nov 1 '18 at 13:37
  • I believe it is allowed if they sign a waiver. – A Simple Algorithm Nov 1 '18 at 16:27
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The answers in the comments are correct. FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, makes "education records," which include grades, private and protected by law in the United States. Students can reasonably expect their homework and exam grades to be held private from other students. (Students acting as TAs can necessarily see such grades, but are bound by FERPA to keep them private.) A search for FERPA will tell you more than you could ever want to know.

  • This is generally true, but it should be noted that FERPA itself is quite vague on what exactly is an "education record" and what specific measures must be taken to keep them private. My experience is that institutions decide for themselves what policies to create, and what sorts of measures they feel are enough to reduce their liability to a manageable level while still getting work done. So there can be considerable variance between institutions as to what actually happens on the ground, even though they all think they're in compliance. – Nate Eldredge Nov 8 '18 at 3:27
  • While I agree that FERPA is vague on specific measures, 34 CFR § 99.3 says, "The term [education records] means those records that are: (1) Directly related to a student; and (2) Maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution." Given that there is a specific exemption for peer-graded assignments before they are collected and recorded by a teacher [emphasis added] I think it's pretty clear that other grades are "education records." – Bob Brown Nov 8 '18 at 18:54

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