This is the first post in our “Lessons from the Field” series, where we’re featuring a number of educators who, day in and day out, are working to improve student success and take the public education sector forward through responsible and effective use of data and technology.

DSST Public Schools (DSST) was founded as the Denver School of Science and Technology in 2001 and opened its founding campus – Stapleton High School – in 2004. Since opening the school doors, DSST has seen considerable success and growth. We now serve 2,600 students at seven schools across five campuses around Denver, and plan to grow to 14 schools and almost 7,000 students in the near future. Since we launched, 100 percent of graduating students from a DSST school have been accepted to four-year colleges or universities.

Growing at this rate while keeping the bar of excellence high is not an easy task, and it comes with endless unique challenges. Not the smallest of these challenges has been maintaining the data-driven instruction that is at the center of our instructional model.

As DSST continued to grow, our data and its sources became more and more plentiful. It wasn’t long before our old systems of organizing, analyzing and presenting data to stakeholders were no longer sustainable or suitable. When the need for a comprehensive operational data store (ODS) and data warehouse became undeniable, we began to research data frameworks and partners. Ed-Fi technology quickly emerged as our tool of choice. Adopting it put a standard in place that met nearly all of our needs; in particular, it helped us to achieve a clearer picture of our students and to deliver information to educators in a clean, digestible format.

Below are five benefits of Ed-Fi technology that make it a mission-critical tool in DSST’s data strategy:

1. Ed-Fi technology provided us with a customizable framework to jumpstart our work– for free

We know our data is in a nationally recognized data model, and that gives us benefits that we wouldn’t have had if we started from scratch. One of our initial worries when choosing a solution was that something off-the-shelf wouldn’t help us meet our unique data needs around issues such as behavioral interventions and custom incentive/discipline structures. But the reality has proven quite the opposite. Ed-Fi technology has given us both a thorough and vetted format for common data elements, and a flexible extension framework for our unique sets of data.

2. Ed-Fi technology gives us flexibility going forward

We can choose whatever business intelligence tool we want to report on the data. And the robust extension framework gives us the flexibility to expand and organize unique data points. Our data has been organized in a way that accounts for new types and quantities of data in the long term, meaning we can store and organize historical data for future needs.

3. Ed-Fi technology allows us to deliver data that is clean, consistent, high quality and timely

Our goal was to aggregate information from disparate data sources, and we’re now able to provide teachers and school leaders with reporting that is robust, timely and fully actionable. Today, our systems update nightly (and soon to be more frequently), so our educators have the most up-to-date information on their students at the beginning of every school day. Having educators’ eyes on data every day enables us to spot inaccuracies constantly and quickly, meaning that our data is increasing in quality over time.

4. Ed-Fi technology is constantly evolving in response to real-world needs and experiences in the field

DSST invested in and developed an Ed-Fi aligned data warehouse and contributed it back to the community. In fact, one of my proudest moments was hearing from the Tennessee Department of Education’s CIO that our work with the Ed-Fi Alliance probably saved Tennessee more than $1 million. In turn, as we upgrade to the latest version, we are continuing to take advantage of similar investments from other users across the country.

5. Ed-Fi technology is built on a foundation of collective input

The power and flexibility of what we can achieve through the Ed-Fi Alliance continues to grow as the development community offers input. As more of us join the movement to advance the education sector, we all benefit from sharing our knowledge and from actively evolving the technology.

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Jake Firman (@jakefirman) serves as the Senior Manager of Education Technology at DSST Public Schools in Denver, CO. He currently leads DSST’s implementation of blended instruction in all seven of its 1:1 middle and high schools, as well as oversees the network’s software development and data warehousing initiatives.

His passion for technology’s powerful role in revolutionizing education for every student began when he taught middle school math for four years at Bruce Randolph School prior to joining DSST in 2011. There, he also served as Instructional Technology Coordinator and led initiatives such as a 1:1 tablet credit recovery pilot.