FERPA approval for educational research

The records of students (including courses, grades, and student demographics) is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Any request to measure student performance must be submitted to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) here at UCI, and the IRB will ask for a letter of approval from the campus FERPA analyst that says the research will be an appropriate use of the student records.

There are two mechanisms to seek approval from UCI’s FERPA analyst, Mark Fonseca:

A letter of Legitimate Educational Interest from the Dean or Chair of the school or department that will benefit from the study

This format is used when the school or department will use the results of the study to improve their department or programs.  Research groups intending to meet Legitimate Educational Interest (LEI) must demonstrate that their study is “University Business.” In other words, it is a study that the department/school would have or could have conducted on its own but chooses to assign it to an individual or group to conduct on their behalf.

Some important LEI definitions according to University of California policy:
130.280 – Campus Official or University Official – A “campus official” or “University official” is any individual designated by the University of California to perform an assigned function on behalf of the University. A campus or University official may be:

  1. a person employed by the University in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research, or support staff position;
  2. a person serving on a University governing body;
  3. a contractor, consultant, volunteer or other party to whom the University has outsourced institutional services or functions provided that: (1) the outside party performs an institutional service or function for which the University would otherwise use employees; (2) the outside party is under the direct control of the University with respect to the use and maintenance of student records; and (3) the outside party may not disclose the information to any other party without the student’s consent, and may not use the information for any purpose other than the purpose for which the disclosure was made; or
  4. a student serving on an official committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance committee, or assisting another University official in performing his or her tasks.

130.292a – UCI campus officials are deemed to have legitimate educational interest when information from a student’s record is necessary for the official to: perform a task or determination that is an employment responsibility or is a properly assigned subject matter for the official; perform a task that is related specifically to the official’s participation in the student’s education; perform a task that is related specifically to the discipline of the student; or provide a service or benefit relating to the student or students’ family, such as health care, counseling, job placement or financial aid. The University is not required to initiate the study or agree with or endorse the conclusions or results of the study.

An LEI letter should demonstrate that the study group (the “organization”) is acting on behalf of the university to provide research that would benefit the university and provide the details of that benefit. A good LEI letter:

  1. Specifies the purpose, scope, and duration of the study or studies and the information to be disclosed;
  2. States the organization will use personally identifiable information from education records only to meet the purpose or purposes of the study as stated in the written agreement;
  3. States the organization will conduct the study in a manner that does not permit personal identification of parents and students by anyone other than representatives of the organization with legitimate interests; and
  4. States the organization will destroy or return to the educational agency or institution all personally identifiable information when the information is no longer needed for the purposes for which the study was conducted and specifies the time period in which the information must be returned or destroyed.

Here is sample text for an LEI letter for you to modify to fit your dean or chair and your experimental design. It will be “from” the dean or chair of the school/department, and “to” the researcher:

Dear (name of researcher):

I learned with great interest about your study with (insert names of other primary researchers), titled (title of research project).

I would be very pleased if you would provide with us your analysis of (the project hypothesis). That would be helpful for us in improving our instructional programs. Toward this end, I approve the use of personally identifiable information including enrollment and grade information as well as demographic background information (– state specifically what data types you will need) from UCI’s educational records from (state where you will obtain the data – registrar, OIR, etc.) so that you can (state the reason this data is necessary – for example, to match up your current data on students’ computer and phone usage from your NSF study with institutional data on the same students’ academic performance and background over the next three years).

You will be required to complete the study in a way that does not permit personal identification of students or parents and to destroy the personally identifiable information when it is no longer needed for the study and within three years of receipt.


Name and title of Dean or Chair

This letter would then be sent to FERPA analyst Mark Fonseca along with the IRB narrative, and he will review it and send an approval letter to you to be included with your IRB submission.


A Study Information Sheet given to students whose data will be used in the study

This format is used when a project is independent of the needs of the researcher’s school or department. By providing a study information sheet, you give the students information about the use of their student records and an opportunity to remove consent by opting out of the data collection. When you provide a study information sheet (SIS), it should contain:

A sample SIS is provided below:

University of California, Irvine
Study Information Sheet

Assessment of General Education Student Learning Outcomes in UCI Science Courses

Lead Researcher

Justin Shaffer, PhD
Lecturer PSOE, Developmental and Cell Biology
j.shaffer@uci.edu / (949) 824-xxxx


Julie Ferguson, PhD
Lecturer PSOE, Earth System Sciences
julie.ferguson@uci.edu / (949) 824-xxxx

Research Personnel

Pavan Kadandale, PhD
Lecturer PSOE, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
pavan.k@uci.edu / (949) 824-xxxx


In order to improve UCI students’ experiences in science courses, we want to know what you know and what you are learning about science. The research procedures involve analyzing data obtained from standard course activities, such as scores on exams and class assignments as well as your responses to course surveys and evaluations. All students enrolled in the following courses are automatically enrolled in this study:

Fall Quarter 2016:

  • Bio Sci 93 sections A and B (Justin Shaffer)
  • Bio Sci 93 section F (Aimee Edinger)
  • Bio Sci 97 sections A, B, and D (Rahul Warrior)
  • ESS 1 section A (Julie Ferguson)

Winter Quarter 2017:

  • Bio Sci 9B section A (Justin Shaffer)
  • ESS 3 section A (Julie Ferguson)

Spring Quarter 2017:

  • ESS 21 section A (Julie Ferguson)

By participating in this study, you are agreeing to allow the research team to collect certain information about you that will be valuable towards assessing what you are learning in these courses and how they can be improved for future offerings. By participating in this study:

(1) You authorize the research team to obtain and use your coursework (from the course you are enrolled as listed above) such as assignment and exam scores, your responses to course surveys and evaluations, and your final letter grade.

(2) You authorize the study group to obtain the following student information from the University Registrar: your SAT scores (math, critical reading, writing, and total), your UCI GPA, your gender and ethnicity, your major, and your class level.

These data will ONLY be reported in aggregate as the average of a large group of students. No personal or identifiable information will be published or available outside of this research project, and all research data collected will be stored securely and confidentially. We will not analyze these data until AFTER final grades have been submitted for the quarter in which you are enrolled in.

Participation in this study is completely optional. If you do not want your information to be used in this study, you can opt out at any time by emailing Dr. Pavan Kadandale (pavan.k@uci.edu). Whether or not you participate WILL NOT affect your grade in the course in any way.

You must be 18 years old in order to participate in this study. If you are under 18 as of today, please do not participate in this study, as you are not eligible.

The only foreseeable discomfort associated with the study is the invasion of your privacy and potential breach of confidentiality. There are no direct benefits to you from participation in the study. However, this study may better help us know how to teach UCI science courses in the future.

Inclusion of your data in our published results is voluntary. There is no cost to you for participating. Your data will be stored for up to five years after participating in this study for use in further research. You may refuse to participate or discontinue your involvement at any time without penalty. If you do not want your information to be used in the study analysis, please contact Dr. Pavan Kadandale (pavan.k@uci.edu).

The research team, authorized UCI personnel, the study sponsor, and regulatory entities, may have access to your study records to protect your safety and welfare. Any information derived from this research project that personally identifies you will not be voluntarily released or disclosed by these entities without your separate consent, except as specifically required by law.

If you have any comments, concerns, or questions regarding the conduct of this research please contact the researchers listed at the top of this form. If you are unable to reach the researchers listed at the top of the form and have general questions, or you have concerns or complaints about the research, or questions about your rights as a research subject, please contact UCI’s Office of Research by phone, (949) 824-6662, by e-mail at IRB@rgs.uci.edu or at 5171 California Avenue, Suite 150, Irvine, CA 92697-7600.

This study information sheet would then be sent to FERPA analyst Mark Fonseca along with the IRB narrative, and he will review it and send an approval letter to you to be included with your IRB submission.