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An educator teaches four elementary students in blue polo shorts.

Breaking down barriers: Education data standard implementation stories

Guest Author: Jami O'Toole and Dan Stasiewski

At the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, we understand how important it is that teachers and educators have the information they need to best teach and mentor their students. We believe that when students have support and opportunity, they can and will succeed. That means we are constantly in search of pioneers — brave folks tackling difficult challenges and paving the way for others to take a big step forward in improving outcomes for kids.

In today’s schools, grades, attendance, test scores, and other important academic records are often locked up in siloed and unencrypted technology systems that are antiquated and difficult for teachers and educators to manage. This creates barriers and makes it difficult for administrators, teachers, students, and parents to access useful, timely, and actionable data.

We’ve recently partnered with 12 pioneering districts, CMOs, and education collaboratives to address their data interoperability barriers. Each of the 12 organizations identified that their strategic priorities would move faster and farther if their key decision-makers had access to the information they need in real-time. They are taking steps to tackle their own data interoperability challenges to unlock the data and give teachers more control of their classrooms, so they can provide tailored instruction to help each individual student achieve more. As these organizations have implemented data interoperability, we’ve learned that:

  1. Establishing data governance that involves technical and academic stakeholders is critical to gaining support and ensuring there is an understanding in what data is available to educators.
  2. Successfully completing the technical implementation requires an integrated team of district staff, educator stakeholders, and vendor partners. If it is only an IT project, it will not succeed.
  3. Agile project management is crucial as the implementation will face many unexpected obstacles, both big and small that require quick decisions and pivots.
  4. If the implementation requires technical consulting support or third-party data visualization tools, it’s essential to plan extra time to complete RFP processes.
  5. It’s important to be specific about requirements when asking vendors to adopt data standards such as Ed-Fi and leverage the Ed-Fi Alliance team and resources to onboard vendors. This helps vendors make a more accurate estimate of the work required and helps them get the job done right the first time.

An overview of the exciting work of these pioneering organizations is below.

Data Interoperability Pioneers

  • Achievement First is adapting their student dashboards so that they refresh in real-time, eliminating the delay they experience getting the latest data. They plan to utilize a single set of learning standards, and tag curriculum and assessment results that will allow educators to more easily find the right resources when student assessments indicate they are struggling to master a specific topic.
  • Metro Nashville is centralizing data to ensure educator-facing reporting and district strategic plan KPI monitoring is more accurate and timelier.
  • Boston Public Schools is giving teachers and school administrators detailed data to assist them in supporting off-track youth using early warning indicators. Making this information available in a timely manner to those closest to students will help ensure students are on track to graduate from high school ready for college, career, and life.
  • Uncommon Schools is providing educators and administrators with real-time enrollment, attendance, discipline, and assessment data for middle school students. This information will support student achievement growth and success in transitioning each student from elementary to secondary grade levels.
  • YES Prep is providing students and parents information that engages, informs, and tells a story around students’ college and career readiness. This will enable students and parents to plan and navigate the path to successful post-secondary decisions, whether that be college or career.
  • Spring Branch ISD is implementing a student-facing dashboard to support students in taking ownership of their academic journey to successfully complete trade school, military, two-year or four-year college.

These pioneers will be uniting their vendor-provided systems around the Ed-Fi Data Standard, which will allow them to bring data together in a meaningful way to help student outcomes.