Implementing the Data Backpack: Utah’s Story

Erin Lockett

The annual Digital Learning Report Card examines each state’s progress in implementing policies that give students access to high-quality digital learning, as defined by the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning. The report is produced by Digital Learning Now (DLN), an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd). One of the features of this year’s Report Card is the addition of State Policy Profiles that provide insight into the intention, implementation and implications of policies that are advancing personalized learning. Key among these are policies related to student data.

Digital Learning Now believes that states should consider applying the following principles when considering student data backpacks:

  1. Provide clear definitions on what data is provided for parents and teachers on students in the backpack and guarantee the data can be easily understood and used.
  2. Ensure there are clear requirements on when requests for information must be responded to, so that parents and teachers can make informed choices to improve student learning.
  3. Protect the data collected by this backpack through the use of high-quality data privacy and security policy.

BagleyQuoteUtah’s SB 82 – Student Achievement Backpack –  meets these expectations. Inspired by Digital Learning Now and Getting Smart’s 2012 paper, Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles, Utah policymakers set out to become the first state to make Data Backpacks a reality. And in 2013, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law the Student Achievement Backpack legislation. This law stipulates that by 2017 all Utah students will have a common electronic record that follows them to schools within the state.


Truly Personalized Learning. If parents, teachers and schools are working toward the goal of personalized learning, they need to understand each child’s learning style, interests and history so they can create a customized education that works best for that child.

Robyn Bagley, a school administrator and chair of Utah’s grassroots organization Parents for Choice in Education, asserts, “We can’t have personalized learning plans without a student data backpack.”

Utah’s Data Backpacks will give parents and educators a comprehensive view of each student’s progress and achievement so they can work with the student to create a personalized learning plan. Through these portable records, teachers and parents will be able to track student progress – not just in one class, but in every course on a student’s personalized plan. For example, a student taking an online course will be able to share her progress with teachers in her brick-and-mortar school.

UT SB 82 Image

Step-by-Step Implementation. In Utah, the State Office of Education is rolling out the Student Achievement Backpack legislation in three phases.

The first two phases – where Utah is currently focused – happen behind the scenes. Within these phases, the state has made student data cloud-based and will expand Utah’s current Student Information System (SIS) to include more information. The third and final phase includes a final mobility integration of all required data to ensure accessible viewing by June 2017.

Once all phases are complete, teachers and administrators will begin to tailor students’ learning experiences based on a learner’s profile.

Profiles will include information like:

  • Course enrollments and history
  • Course grades
  • Teacher qualifications
  • State assessment results (including growth scores)
  • Student demographics
  • Summary attendance
  • Special education summary information

Implications for Other States. For parents and educators within Utah, the Student Achievement Backpack is an important first step to providing a better understanding of a student’s progress and achievement. This understanding is important for two reasons: it can help ensure effective monitoring in any given school year and it can help students, counselors and families in their postsecondary planning. Utah is paving the way with this innovative portable record, but states considering data backpacks should also consider what other elements are necessary to create a more complete learner profile, with the goal of allowing the creation of more meaningful personalized learning paths for students.

States should strive to answer questions such as: How can teachers and parents track a student’s progress in a way that captures the totality of their progress in school, with online content and in an afterschool tutoring program? When and how do parents and students have access to their information? How can information from work students are doing in school, out of school and online be recognized so that a parent or teacher can pinpoint the extra attention a struggling student needs and can match a thriving student with additional activities tailored to their interests? In the shift to a more comprehensive and holistic data system to improve student learning, what additional student data securities, communications and professional development are necessary to support parents and teachers?

We hope that other states will follow Utah’s lead and work toward policy solutions that balance personalization and privacy. For more information on how that’s possible, see:

This post is a part of a Student Data Backpack blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Personalization and Privacy” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Digital Learning Now initiative (@DigLearningNow) and the Data Quality Campaign (@EdDataCampaign). Join the conversation on Twitter using #EdData.

Portions of this blog originally appeared in DLN Report Card Preview: Student Achievement Backpacks in Utah.

Erin Lockett is a Policy Coordinator at The Foundation For Excellence in Education.  

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