Advancing Data Interoperability in Public Education—3 Pain Points and...

School Infrastructure

Advancing Data Interoperability in Public Education—3 Pain Points and Their Solutions

from Digital Promise

By Melissa Gedney     Jun 18, 2018

Advancing Data Interoperability in Public Education—3 Pain Points and Their Solutions

Remember your paper mache days? Globbing a bunch of unrelated newspaper scraps together to assemble a lumpy self-portrait? Now imagine that in order to evaluate what you learned, your teacher has to carefully deconstruct your mask, read each gluey snippet, and make a determination about your learning. A lack of data interoperability in education is like asking a teacher to understand a student’s performance by:

  • peeling off each newspaper scrap | pulling performance data from multiple tools in multiple formats
  • deciphering each sticky piece and ordering them | cleaning the data and running analyses
  • producing a report that could change the course of someone’s life | assessing student learning from multiple data sources

All the while, more layers are being pasted onto your unrecognizable mask from new tools and real-time student data—to then peel off and add to the pile.

This activity is subject to error, time-consuming, and frankly, pretty weird. Without unified education data standards, we're asking teachers to deconstruct student data as if it's a paper mache model—everyday.

Leaders throughout the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools have identified data interoperability—defined as the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications—as critical to maximizing the power of tools for understanding student learning.

Data interoperability can be hard to explain; this one-minute video helps. Source: Digital Promise.

Managing student data in an impactful way is a challenge for school districts in the world we live in—a world that does not have unified standards for education. Vendors export data in multiple ways—like files with similar, but fundamentally different, student identification fields; PDFs; app and tool-specific reports; etc. Thus school districts across the country have had to reinvent nearly identical solutions over and over again to move toward focusing what’s historically been a blurry picture of student learning. Data interoperability can help make that picture clearer.

League of Innovative Schools leader Megan Cicconi from Fox Chapel School District describes the burden and responsibility of managing student data:

Source: Digital Promise.

Superintendent David Miyashiro of Cajon Valley Union School District in Southern California—also member of the League of Innovative Schools—compares the goal of having a full view of student performance to a personal health record:

“We’re able to unlock DNA and genomes and have really precise information about each patient’s blood type, and indicators that are showing different signs of concern for cancer or health. That type of information is available at the school level for learning. To give that power to teachers and students to understand who they are and what they need… I don’t think we can even imagine what the positive impacts are going to be yet.”

As they work to advance data interoperability within their districts, Cicconi, Miyashiro and other leaders within the League have identified three primary pain points—as well as solutions:

Pain Point #1: Seamless and Secure Data Exchange

The Challenge: There’s an ever-increasing number of data sources—from attendance trackers to student performance data—which teachers and districts are tasked with managing and sharing in compliance with federal and district requirements.

The Solutions: Many well-resourced school districts have deployed rockstar CTOs and technology directors to develop custom integrations. Such work is often effective, but can be labor-intensive and is not universally available. Adopting standards from organizations like Ed-Fi and IMS Global can make this easier.

Source: Digital Promise. YouTube video here.

Pain Point #2: Ensuring Security and Privacy

The Challenge: Every individual district, school, and classroom has the responsibility of creating secure data environments that can process and organize a great deal of data ingested and exchanged from a huge number of sources.

The Solutions: Resources like the Project Unicorn Rubric can help districts think through smaller, incremental ways to solve for security and privacy—moving from linguistic student identifiers to unique numeric student identifiers, for example. Moving toward a new data standard creates ways to manage this data in a more unified and secure way, building tight and enforceable protocols that can move districts further along in all categories.

Pain Point #3: Rostering and Login Management

The Challenge: Adding a class of students into a new program may seem like a simple task, but it becomes a massive headache when each vendor expects that data in a different format.

The Solutions: Some districts have implemented single sign-on, writing codes to integrate programs within their individual districts. As a result, many have required interoperability and data standards at the procurement stage—refusing to begin new contracts with vendors who cannot comply.

While data interoperability is a challenge, there are districts making huge strides in pursuit of a clearer picture of student learning for schools, teachers, and students alike. To dig deeper into the challenges faced by school districts advancing data interoperability throughout the country, visit Digital Promise.

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