By: Cesare Tise, Manager of Strategic Partnerships, Ed-Fi Alliance
If data analysis isn’t your forte but you care deeply about students, this article is still for you.
In the context of education, “data interoperability” simply means that student data is standardized to speak the same language so that multiple source systems of data can interact. This allows for information from many aspects of a student’s life and academic performance to be surfaced in a single view and analyzed.
We’ve talked to some districts that have more than 100 different ed tech tools and applications in use at any given time, so we’re talking about a lot of valuable student information that isn’t currently being put to good use.
It may seem like a topic that should only matter to your school or central office’s IT department—and indeed, these are the folks who make interoperability happen—but the resulting impact is largely for educators, students, and families. When our educators have access to more detailed, accurate and up-to-date information, they can empower students and families to communicate and succeed.
Moreover, when a school district has made their systems interoperable its teachers, administrators, and counselors can view detailed information that combines data and information typically siloed. This is what is so exciting about interoperability: it’s a game-changer for technical staff trying to get the most out of their district’s IT investment, as well as for educators wanting to help students right where they are.
What a Data-Driven Parent-Teacher Conference Looks Like
Imagine sitting down for a parent-teacher conference and instead of pulling out separate printed-out spreadsheets from the attendance system, the grade book, the formative assessment system, and quiz apps, you are analyzing and discussing the information from all of those sources and more in one comprehensive view. You can quickly pinpoint where support might be needed and celebrate moments of success.
Now imagine doing that for every student in every school district in the country. A massive “aha moment” is sweeping over our education system. It’s truly amazing what insights and solutions can be unlocked when we paint a full picture of a student’s life both in and out of the classroom. Think of the possibilities, what this can do for students across every sector of public education. Interoperability gives us the tools to use technology more effectively and empowers you—whether you’re a parent, educator, or technologist—with the full picture.
The first major benefit of data interoperability for students and parents is that data is collected and streamlined in real time. This allows teachers and counselors to support and notify students and families as soon as a behavioral or learning challenge begins to form. Educators have a special talent for connecting with young people, and technology tools can facilitate even richer instructional time, but what happens to all of the data generated by the use of these tools? What if they could get alerted automatically when one of their students was at risk of falling behind, could act fast, and personalize their approach?
When a school district prioritizes interoperability, they can. This is already happening in school districts and entire states across the country, including Pennsylvania and Delaware, using Early Warning Systems built on the Ed-Fi Data Standard. With Early Warning Systems in place, students and their families are notified much earlier when one or more of the ABCs—attendance, behavior, or course performance—is suffering. And parent-teacher conversations don’t have to be based solely on the teacher’s observations anymore; they can be “let’s look at the numbers” conversations that get everyone on the same page, literally viewing the same problems and potential causes.
This real-time flow of data has an even greater impact when it’s gathered in relationship management platforms like Salesforce.org’s K-12 Kit being built on its Education Data Architecture (EDA), which uses the Ed-Fi Data Standard. Salesforce.org Education Cloud, the foundation of which is EDA, is essentially a one-stop, plays-nicely-with-other-systems tool for every key K-12 operation. With high-quality data and automated systems in place, schools can engage learners and parents with the right messages and interventions, right when they need it.
Schools and school districts can now streamline their operations across admissions, enrollment, family and community engagement, fundraising and grant management. Having all of this standardized information in one place boosts transparency, strengthens relationships between educators, students, and families, and informs improved resource allocation.
Connected Data Means Student & Family Ownership
In addition to more helpful, targeted communication coming from our schools, data interoperability allows students and families to take ownership of their own data in a powerful way. They can review up-to-date marks on attendance, assessments, assignments, and so much more without a teacher or counselor reaching out. Info from all systems and apps—everything from assessment scores to transportation, food services records, and financial information—can be standardized and fed securely into an Operational Data Store via an API (like the Ed-Fi ODS/API) to compose a 360-degree view.
Connected, high-quality data also means heightened accountability. Sorry, students—gone are the days of handing in altered report cards or saying you took the bus to school when you really hopped in a friend’s car. (Until you turn 18, that is.) Now, parents and students can monitor performance and celebrate progress as a team. They can see exactly what the teachers see, including benchmarks that compare peers in the district, state, and across the nation. Today’s students are tech-savvy and no longer respond to a gold star sticker or a letter from the teacher the same way. They learn best using technology, and this includes how they learn about themselves.
It Takes a (Data-Driven) Village
Beyond the classroom, college and career readiness programs are partnering with school districts, utilizing the Ed-Fi Data Standard and Technology Suite, to uncover and fill skills gaps between students and the business community. Dallas County Promise is at the forefront of this kind of data-driven community work. Their model aggregates data from the local school districts, which is structured by the Ed-Fi Data Standard and securely exchanged via the Ed-Fi API.
Dallas Promise’s team then surfaces insights using college and career readiness applications built by Eduphoric that are delivered to the schools’ teachers and counseling staff. Then, they use the Salesforce.org Education Cloud to engage with students and parents directly on next steps toward fulfilling their graduation plans, completing their financial aid submissions, applying to good-fit colleges, and more.
Not to Mention, Student Data is Finally Secure
Data security is another major benefit of interoperability for students and families, especially considering more public-private collaboratives like Dallas Promise are forming to support our students and communities. A major component of Ed-Fi’s mission is to upgrade the frustrating state of data management in most schools today—emailing spreadsheets full of personal information over insecure email servers—to systems that are protected and ensure secure transferring at the students’ and districts’ discretion.
It all comes down to protecting, supporting, and engaging with students and families better and faster. When we can all lean into the same comprehensive view of the students we teach, support, and parent, it’s bonding and motivational. Unknowns and assumptions are replaced with accurate details and insightful correlations. Goals become much easier to set, and it no longer falls on the teacher or parents alone to detect when a student needs accommodations or other support.
To learn more about why data interoperability is the greatest thing going for K-12, or for resources to advocate for data reform in your school district, check out ed-fi.org and watch this webinar with Ed-Fi about the possibility of true data interoperability when K-12 technologists think at a platform level. The most innovative schools and states in the country are already able to get data from multiple sources and systems to speak the “same language” and see data flow into tools for educators and administrators in real time!
About the Author
Cesare Tise (pronounced Chez-AR-a!) is passionate about sharing the benefits of interoperability with ed-tech providers so that they can serve their customers better. With over 15 years of experience in education technology sales and partnerships, Cesare has served in leadership roles with assessment, curriculum, courseware, and instructional tech companies. A natural connector, Cesare is focused on building bridges between state and local education agencies and ed-tech providers. Connect with Cesare on LinkedIn.