Full benefits of edtech can't be realized until data is interoperable, report finds

States should collaborate and standardize data from educational technology to reap all potential benefits of IT transformation, SETDA says

Patience Wait
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Patience Wait Contributing Writer

Patience Wait is a freelance writer and former journalist, covering the information technology market for industry-leading trade sites. She has won...

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A report just released by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), “State Education Leadership for Interoperability: Leveraging Data for Academic Excellence,” argues that for current and future investments in educational technology to produce the desired results, state-level education leaders need to include an interoperability plan that facilitates sharing data easily all the way up and down the educational structure, from students and parents through state officials, making it readily available to all who need it.

“Our recommendations focus on ways that state education leaders, through a collaborative approach, can have seamless access to data and support new learning models by applying interoperability approaches,” said Tracy Weeks, executive director of SETDA. "My hope is that this report will serve as a critical resource for our members and others in the sector."

Interoperability, as the report defines it, is “the seamless, secure and controlled exchange of data between applications. [It] allows data to easily flow among applications that are developed for different purposes using a standardized vocabulary, structure and cadence.” It is not the same as integration, in which a “bridge” application translates between two applications, or an application and a system, which use different languages.

The content of the report is drawn from a symposium hosted by SETDA in collaboration with the nonprofit Ed-Fi Alliance. Nine state teams, including both academic and technology leaders, along with private sector leaders and content experts, participated in a focused discussion on the successes, challenges and future needs to support state K-12 education interoperability. Participating states were Delaware, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The report includes “snapshots” of each state’s progress toward interoperability.

The benefits of interoperability are numerous, such as allowing data to “follow” a student transferring from one school system to another, even across state lines, then enabling teachers in the student’s new system to review and understand the student’s earlier work, progress and areas of struggle.

Denver Public Schools in Colorado, not one of the states that participated in the symposium, has been working on interoperability issues. The system signed the Project Unicorn pledge to pursue interoperability; the state of Oregon, a symposium participant, also took the pledge.

The report offers a series of use cases as examples, to show how interoperability crosses boundaries and makes information available to students, parents, teachers, administrators and agency officials.

Among the report’s recommendations:

Leverage ESSA

The data reporting requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) require systems to be interoperable and able to share data easily. SETDA has a handbook that identifies ways that ESSA can reshape educators’ and administrators’ approaches to integrating technology.

Collaborate with districts

State education agencies should collaborate with their school districts on implementing interoperable data systems and applications, and work with them to develop plans for the future, including new interoperability initiatives, with clearly defined goals and timelines.

Communicate with vendors

States should have a strategic vision and plan for implementing interoperable data systems, and they should share it with vendors.

There are obstacles to states’ pursuit of interoperability of their education systems and technology, in addition to budget constraints, such as a lack of interoperability policies and implementation plans. “Convincing policy makers on the value proposition of interoperability solutions to drive student learning goals is another challenge when crafting policies. Policy makers tend to focus on compliance and monitoring rather than student learning when they consider data solutions,” the report observes.

The report includes numerous links to useful resources, such as the websites for the Privacy Technical Assistance Center, for information on data privacy, confidentiality and security practices, and for the State Exchange of Education Data (SEED), which enables participating states to track, monitor and share information for students transferring across state lines.

Reach the reporter at pwaitster@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @edscoop_news.

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Education IT News, Blended Learning, Edtech, K-12, SETDA, Data interoperability

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