So, recently there's been some press attention on an exurban Arizonan school color-coding badges by credits in order to simplify the security process of letting upperclassmen out for lunch and similar. Opponents say that, because it would let students deduce academic troubles of age-mates, it is a FERPA violation. Basically, easing the inference of students being behind is an unauthorized disclosure of educational records.
I have no particular insight into the legal question of whether what grade you're in (defined as being strictly on track) is an educational record covered by FERPA – the schools describe it as "directory information" which presumably gets exempted. I would have to learn a lot to even begin to have a guess better than "I've heard lawyers be extremely skeptical of the school's claim". I have heard that, but you never know with these things.
I have a more basic question: what on Earth are we trying to do with schools? It's teaching people, right? Having them successfully educated, and perhaps even graduate? Isn't it central to the school's mission to develop systems that incentivize that? And if you can do that with no cost, and by only making more explicit an inference people can already make (because it isn't as though students wear masks to class – if you need to retake a class, people can see that) – that sounds like a moral obligation.
I know people think it couldn't ever possibly be appropriate to open a kid up to bullying based on their performance. But I've existed in the physical reality of a high school for more than four seconds, so let me tell you: if someone wants to bully you, they will find and use whatever they have at hand, including nothing at all. The real question is: should children feel shame about their failure in school?
And as far as I can tell, the answer is: absolutely yes. I've mentioned before that my lackluster performance in a class with a terrible teacher has inspired me to self-study well into adulthood. If people are in a public school to learn, and they fail to do so, that's bad, and they're imposing on others in the process. If people are really worried about a physical ID card displaying information that couldn't actually be inferred – that's something to consider. But if the complaint is, I couldn't be cool because I'm failing in school -- all I feel is, "Thank the heavens not being cool finally happens for a reason that isn't a total waste of human talent and potential!"
Perhaps this minor incidental disclosure is legal, perhaps not. But it ought to be acceptable to at least attempt this. It ought to be something we want out of schools – to create a hierarchy more pro-social than who applies make-up the best or throws a ball more precisely.