Why Data Interoperability Is Critical for Districts—and How It...


Why Data Interoperability Is Critical for Districts—and How It Transforms Student Learning

from Digital Promise

By My Nguyen     Sep 23, 2019

Why Data Interoperability Is Critical for Districts—and How It Transforms Student Learning

Imagine that you are going on a journey. You’re headed somewhere you have visited a few times before, but your memory is fuzzy on the exact directions to take—so you use your navigation app. As you set out, it’s easy to become distracted by your favorite podcast or roadside attractions. You encounter some construction that requires you to take an unexpected turn. Yet even when you veer off your original course, you can rely on the navigation system to correct and update your route instantaneously.

Now imagine that instead of receiving instant feedback as you drive, you have to wait a few minutes—or hours, or months—before knowing if you’re on the right track. Sounds frustrating and ridiculous, right?

This is the challenge that school districts face when navigating student assessment data. As schools adopt more technology to support students’ learning, they inevitably generate more and more data. But this data is usually summative, offering insight into a learner’s progress only at the end of a lesson or grading period.

Furthermore, this information is often spread across many tools, making it difficult to identify learning gaps, tailor instruction, and improve student outcomes. Well-meaning educators and school administrators often spend valuable time and energy reviewing multiple dashboards and platforms, manually inputting data, and reconciling disparate systems. In other words, they get lost in data.

“There’s a lot of great data out there, but the struggle has been putting it all in one place that everyone would be able to see… instead of having to log into system A, B, and C,” says Jaraun Davis, Chief Technology Officer for Uinta County Schools District #1.

What if it were possible to access comprehensive assessment data in real time? Doing so would allow educators to best support each student’s journey. Data interoperability—the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications—has the potential to provide real-time feedback to students and teachers, keeping them on the road to their learning objectives.

Source: Digital Promise

Figuring it out

Over the last few years, Digital Promise has championed data interoperability—identifying it as a shared priority for school districts across the country on the Challenge Map, making the term more accessible through videos and infographics, and providing resources for educators and vendors who are ready to take action. When working together with educators and edtech vendors, data interoperability is in reach, and it has the potential to transform teaching and learning.

Let’s keep moving in the right direction! Are you ready to demand better data practices? Visit digitalpromise.org/di for data interoperability resources and opportunities to take action.

Many school systems are already leveraging data to improve student learning and assessment. For the past year, the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools has supported four districts—the Data Interoperability Challenge Collaborative—as they build capacity and infrastructure to advance interoperability in assessment data.

Together, Stephenville Independent School District (Texas), Uinta County School District #1 (Wyoming), Vancouver Public Schools (Washington), and the San Diego County Office of Education (California) are exploring solutions to address the key problem: How can integrating data across applications support teacher instruction and improve student learning?

“Why do I care” about data interoperability? asks Patrick Gittisriboongul, Assistant Superintendent for Innovation at San Diego County Office of Education. “Because when we have 42 districts to serve, our role is really focused on student achievement. When it comes to equity and access, data helps inform what we do on a monthly and daily basis.”

In a survey of 40 district technology leaders across 40 U.S. public school districts, respondents identified a number of priorities related to data interoperability. Source: The State of Data Interoperability in Public Education infographic.

In a survey of 40 district technology leaders across 40 U.S. public school districts, respondents reported that data interoperability is a top priority. Source: The State of Data Interoperability in Public Education infographic.

Each of the collaborative’s four districts has hosted focus groups with teachers, identified specific use cases that interoperability could address, and created prototypes that would help them use data to inform instruction in those scenarios.

“In order to make teachers’ lives more reasonable so they can really focus on the designs of lessons and learning experiences, we need to create a platform that feeds information fluidly,” says Christina Ironmonger, Chief Digital Officer for Vancouver Public Schools. “Data interoperability is essential.”

As they moved toward interoperability, districts troubleshooted questions about technology—such as setting up systems for data to move securely from one tech tool to another—and about how data is used.

“One of the things we’ve learned is, sometimes that data is incomplete,” says Shelby Womack, Executive Director of Technology & Digital Learning for Stephenville ISD. “There’re 10 questions [in an assignment]. This student got ‘seven out of 10,’” he explains. “‘Seven out of 10’ doesn’t mean anything when we’re looking at data. ‘Seven out of 10’ what?”

In the end, achieving interoperability isn’t just about changing the technology; it’s about connecting technology and instruction in order to make a difference for learners. Data interoperability empowers school systems to fully understand and apply their data, ultimately making that data more effective.

In the second and third installments of this series, we’ll take a look at how school districts in the Challenge Collaborative are tackling this multifaceted endeavor and share helpful tips and lessons from their journeys to achieve data interoperability.

Data Interoperability: Let’s Figure It Out

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