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Student Research

Student Research and Class Projects

Student Research that meet the definition of human subjects research, must obtain IRB approval or exemption from IRB review prior to initiation. At the same time, many class projects that are conducted for educational purposes and not as research, do not require IRB review.

Some projects assigned to students in research methodology classes are designed to teach students skills and provide the opportunity to practice methods such as observation, interview, or survey techniques, data analysis, etc. and may have a research component. Such classroom projects that are exclusively intended for instructional purposes and are not intended to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge or literature in the field need not undergo review by the IRB.

Even when a class project is not human subjects research and, thus, not under the jurisdiction of the IRB, instructors/faculty members have an affirmative obligation to ensure that students understand their ethical obligations and follow federal guidelines and University policy in designing and conducting their projects. Instructors should provide guidance to students collecting information so as to minimize any unwitting or unintentional harms to other students or to individuals, especially if students will interact with or collect private information about individuals.

Research Involving Students and/or Conducted in Educational Settings

Research involving students or conducted in educational settings require special conditions be put in place to ensure the safety and welfare of student participants. These types of projects typically involve minors in schools (K-12), but can also include upper level institutions with adult participants, as well as other non-traditional educational settings. Issues particular to students in grades K-12 include gaining access to school sites and obtaining parental consent and child assent for students under the age of majority at the study location (in most instances this will be 18 years of age but this can differ based on local and state regulations and interpretation). However, for all research conducted in an educational setting, researchers must take into consideration federal, State and University requirements.

Gaining Access to the Setting

All research conducted in, or in cooperation with schools or school districts requires approval from the district or school prior to the initiation of the study. Typically, district or school approval comes in the form of a site letter (on institutional letterhead) signed by the administrator in charge of making such decisions at the school site, or via an email approval from an institutional email address.

Parental Permission/Child Assent

For research conducted with participants who are under the age of majority, parental permission is required in addition to the child’s assent. Parental permission should be done in a manner that actively engages parents in the consent agreement.

Accessing Student Education Records

Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

FERPA is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. FERPA regulates the disclosure of Personally Identifiable Information from education records in all public schools, school districts, intermediate education agencies, state education agencies, and any public or private agency or institution that uses funds from U.S. Department of Education (ED). The purpose of FERPA is to protect all student and parent information maintained in an education record, sort of like HIPAA, but for education records (e.g., grades, names, student numbers, addresses, courses taken, etc.)

Researchers are responsible for complying with FERPA laws when accessing student education records for research purposes, including for the purpose of identifying and recruiting potential research participants and conducting secondary analysis of the records.


Outside of UCSD:
  • At universities, often the registrar’s office
  • Elementary through High School, may be the district office or other office
  • Researchers need to check with the school to understand whose approval is required

Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)

PPRA applies to recipients of funds under any program funded by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). It governs the administration to students of a survey, analysis, or evaluation that concerns one or more of the following eight protected areas:

  • Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent;
  • Mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;
  • Sex behavior or attitudes;
  • Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;
  • Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
  • Legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers;
  • Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent; or
  • Income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).
For more information on PPRA, please visit