One of the ways to access individual-level data at MMSD is through the use of a data sharing agreement, which is a legal document drafted between the user and the district. It undergoes an extensive review process by multiple legal parties before MMSD's Board of Education signs off on the release of the indivudal-level data outlined within that document. At MMSD, the process of developing and executing a data sharing agreement can take quite a bit of time as there are multiple steps in the process, and there are different tracks that data sharing agreements need to take depending on the purpose of the data sharing agreement (e.g., is it part of a contract? is it part of external research?). 

This flowchart can help users identify the appropriate track they will need to take and see the steps involved in the process. Below are some Frequently Asked Questions. Staff, please consult our Internal Frequently Asked Questions for additional information.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I read this flowchart?
A: The DUA flowchart can be read from left to right. A rough timeline is provided on the bottom of the page, and a legend for what each shape indicates is at the top of the page. Each color indicates a different type of DUA flow: red is for researchers working under an umbrella agreement with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and MMSD, blue is for contracts initiated between MMSD and external consulting groups (those approached and/or hired by MMSD to provide a service), and green is for those approved to conduct research by the External Research Committee (ERC). 

Q: Do I always need a DUA for a research project?
A: No.  All external research must undergo ERC approval, but not all external research requires a data use agreement. The DUA process looks specifically at confidential, individual-level data, which is not always needed to complete a research project. However, ERC approval may still be needed even if a DUA is not necessary.

Q: Do I need individual-level data?
A: Researchers should only initiate the DUA process if they feel that confidential, individual-level data is absolutely necessary for the project they are working on and they cannot obtain consent. External researchers that go through the DUA process also need to go through the ERC process. Contractors should arrange a phone call with Andrew Statz. Researchers or contractors can access aggregate-level data without a DUA as long as the data presented reflects more than six students to protect privacy. In order to access this aggregate-level data, external researchers need to go through ERC and contractors will need to include this in their request. 

Q: How do I know which flow I am a part of?

  • The Contract flow is specifically meant for groups which have signed a formal contract with MMSD to conduct work on the district’s behalf (e.g. research, evaluations, etc.).
  • The WCER flow is specifically meant for researchers working under an umbrella agreement with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and MMSD; other UW-Madison research does not fall into this flow.
  • The External Research flow is specifically meant for research reviewed by the External Research Committee that uses individual-level data from MMSD students or teachers. The following groups qualify as part of this flow:
    • Students working on projects for degrees or credit (e.g., a dissertation or thesis)
    • Students working on course projects they may want to publish at a later date
    • Grant-funded research conducted by postsecondary education faculty
    • Vendors looking to pilot an assessment or curriculum
    • MMSD staff working toward an advanced degree
    • MMSD staff looking to publish or present their action research outside of MMSD

Q: Why is there a need for a feedback period between the researcher, MMSD, and both legal departments?
A: The feedback period is necessary in order for MMSD’s Research and Program Evaluation Office (RPEO) to determine what data is most useful and appropriate for the researcher and how that can best be done. RPEO must also seek advice from the legal department about the legality of releasing some individual- level data. During this period, RPEO works with the researcher to answer a number of questions:

  • Does the data that is being requested exist? If not, can it be found?
  • Is the data that is being requested the best data to answer research questions with?
  • Can the data being requested legally be given to the researcher?
  • Is there data that would more effectively benefit both parties?
  • Is there data that needs to be explained to the researcher?
  • How long will the data be accessible by the researcher, and why?

Q: Why does the Board have to sign ERC and Contract DUA’s but not WCER DUA’s?
A: As a frequent partner of MMSD, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) has reached an umbrella data sharing agreement that is amended each time a researcher requests confidential, individual-level data. That agreement delegates authority to the Executive Director of Research, Accountability, & Data Use to sign on behalf of the Board of Education.

Q: How accurate is the timeline provided and how long should I expect before I receive the data I need?
A: Because of FERPA, and out of respect for the privacy our students, MMSD carefully weighs the value of releasing appropriate data to external parties. In order to authorize external data use, MMSD involves legal services as well as the approval from the Board of Education.

For ERC and Contract DUA’s, the process is beholden to a signature by the Board of Education. The DUA goes on the Board’s consent agenda once a month, so depending on when the final DUA is submitted to the Board, this signature could happen anywhere from two to six weeks later. Additionally, all steps that include a feedback period or iterative process between MMSD and the party in question rely on responsiveness of the external party. Therefore, MMSD recommends that ERC and Contract researchers allow at least 75 days from the time a DUA is submitted until the time data is shared.

Q: Who are the “other relevant stakeholders” in MMSD?
A: At MMSD, the Research and Program Evaluation Office (RPEO) is the main entity that handles DUA’s. However, other departments that oversee the process include the Legal Services department and Budget, Planning and Accounting (BPA). External parties should expect that there will be many eyes on their DUA from the MMSD end.

Q: If I have questions for MMSD, who should I contact?
A: MMSD’s point person for all Data Use Requests is Andrew Statz. He can be reached by email at