In early 2013, I wrote that “the potential of education data is far from fully realized; that much is true. But it’s also true that we’re only now planting the earliest seeds of innovation.”

In the few months since then, more seeds have been planted in states and districts across the nation. The most important fruits of those efforts have begun to emerge. They exist at the classroom level, where more teachers are able to use timely, comprehensive data to do better work with their students. They exist in the form of an increasingly robust, open community of technologists dedicated to improving education data tools’ usability, effectiveness and interoperability. They also exist in the emerging effort to ensure new capabilities are used responsibly to benefit children and to protect their privacy.

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the year’s highlights.

  1. Two states hit a benchmark in ensuring that a broad range of timely education data is put to use in the classroom. Arkansas and Delaware, both members of the Ed-Fi Alliance, are led by true data visionaries, Mark Murphy and Tom Kimbrell. This year, the Data Quality Campaign recognized both states for having implemented all of its “10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use.” This achievement highlights the states’ successful shift from data collection and aggregation to usage at the classroom level.
  2. The number of states that provide teachers statewide with effective data dashboards tripled.  At the beginning of 2013, just one Ed-Fi Alliance state – Delaware – had rolled out statewide dashboards to aggregate and serve up data from a number of backend systems. Since then: 
      • South Carolina completed the first phase of the South Carolina Longitudinal Information Center for Education (SLICE) with statewide educator and policymaker dashboards.
      • The Arkansas Department of Education rolled out statewide educator dashboards to 116 of 239 state districts, meaning that more than 20,000 educators obtained finger-tip access to deeper, more meaningful and more timely information about more than 210,000 students and their academic needs. By next school year, the dashboard will be available across the entire state, providing more than 40,000 educators with the same easy access to deeper insight into the needs of some 470,000 students. Using a “train the trainer” format, the state has also trained some 400 educators to use (and train their peers to use) the data dashboards to inform their teaching.
      • And Texas – where everything truly is bigger, including the complexities – moved into the first phase of a phased statewide rollout that will make dashboards available to all 1,235+ districts and more than 330,000 educators by the 2016/2017 school year.

  3. Momentum toward interoperability of education data tools accelerated. We designed the Ed-Fi solution to provide state education and IT leaders with an easy-to-implement, cost-effective data standard that would enable cross-platform compatibility among a range of education data tools. To support that goal, and to enable education leaders and technologists to share their learnings and enhancements for sectorwide advances, we also launched the Ed-Fi Alliance. Over the last year, the Ed-Fi Alliance membership has doubled. Licensing agreements nationwide have positioned more than 35 percent of the nation’s students and teachers in 17 states to benefit from the Ed-Fi solution to date. This critical mass has the potential to spur dramatic new innovations among vendors as they leverage cross-platform, multistate compatibility to fast-track the development of powerful new classroom tools.
  4. An increasingly robust and open technology community began to coalesce.  A data standard that is not supported by a capable and innovative technical community dies on the vine.  Over the last year, implementers of the Ed-Fi standard have proven more than capable and innovative, contributing more than 60 enhancements and improvements to the Ed-Fi Alliance’s open technical community. Community members are dedicated to helping one another leapfrog ahead by ensuring constant improvement to the tool set, and by continually refining the solution’s applicability to real world education data challenges and use cases. 
  5. Awareness about the need for effective oversight and governance of student data privacy began to achieve critical mass. Student data privacy has been at the forefront of education news coverage over this year. Growing consensus around the need for effective policies and oversight of data privacy, security and confidentiality has led to calls for effective governance, as well as for the development and implementation of industry best practices.  The Data Quality Campaign has consolidated a number of resources to specifically strengthen state efforts in these critical areas.  There’s no question that the heightened level of awareness is an important sign of the sector’s maturation and a critical issue in ensuring effective and responsible use. More importantly, there’s no question that students and families deserve stalwart stewardship in this area.

For all the progress the sector made in 2013, we expect momentum in 2014 to accelerate on all fronts. To all those doing the day-in-day-out hard work of implementing new solutions and educating kids, we say a heartfelt thank you.  Enjoy a well-earned holiday break and we’ll see you next year!