Setting out on the road to data interoperability for your school district, collaborative, or state is a rewarding journey that requires planning. You’ll need a comprehensive roadmap for this process. You’ll need a data governance plan. And you’ll need buy-in from leadership for the time and resources required to be successful. This could even mean rearranging responsibilities or hiring someone new. 

If data interoperability is treated as a side project, it won’t get done. At least not thoroughly or efficiently. It’s well worth taking the time to plan so you can prioritize this project and knock it out (at least foundationally) within one school year. 

Abe Lincoln once said something like: Spend most of your time sharpening the ax and you’ll have a much easier time chopping down the tree. So spend this school year sharpening, and next school year you’ll be able to chop swiftly and yell “Timber!” by sticking to your plan.

There are countless reasons to prioritize education data interoperability, but here are the five universal benefits you’ll reap regardless of your organization’s size, location, or demographics.

1. Data Security

We know from CoSN’s 2019 IT Leadership Survey that data security is the number one issue on school district technologists’ minds right now. As it should be, with school system hacks and data breaches on the rise.

The fact of the matter is, how most schools and districts manage and share student data right now—by entering information manually into spreadsheets that get emailed over unsecured servers and saved on desktops—is not going to cut it anymore. Do we really want our own kids’ sensitive information getting passed around this way? 

This isn’t the fault of our teachers or IT professionals. It’s the result of having an insane amount of data and data systems to manage. Data interoperability is the key to organizing and safeguarding all of this valuable student information because the data is pulled directly from the systems themselves (spreadsheets be gone,) standardized, and pulled through a protected, centralized point. 

This doesn’t mean all of your safety & security work is done, but as DataViz Project Director Marcos Algazer explained to EdSurge, “Ed-Fi has security controls baked in, which gives us a great base to build with.”

2. Full Technology Ownership & Freedom

While some ed-tech vendors are fully committed to the interoperability mission, there are plenty out there who aren’t playing nice with each other because they want education agencies to be reliant on, and loyal to, their products and their products only. Imagine if you bought a shirt somewhere that you were only able to pair with pants from the same store? We would never allow ourselves to be limited this way as consumers, the same should hold true for school districts consuming technology products. 

Some ed-tech vendors claim to be interoperable, but with the massive caveat that they will only ensure data speaks the same language between their own products and with partner companies. This traps our education agencies, preventing them from comparing and choosing the best technology for their unique needs.

But by applying the Ed-Fi Data Standard and achieving interoperability with our free, not-for-profit technology, schools and school districts gain full control. Ed-Fi essentially offers a way for all ed-tech products to work together so education agencies can base their technology decisions on what best serves their teachers and students. 

Teacher Referencing Data While Student Writes on the Board

Note: To get more ed-tech vendors on board and complying with the Ed-Fi Data Standard, use our vendor request form to make your voice heard!

3. Streamlined Reporting

Once your data is standardized and flowing through a centralized data store in real-time, reporting that is currently a multi-month scramble becomes easy breezy in comparison. Our data standard was architected with reporting needs in mind, and visualization tools can be customized to set districts and states up for reporting success. 

For state agencies, our Generate plugin, developed by AEM in partnership with the Center for the Integration of IDEA Data, simplifies and automates EDFacts reporting, provides consistency for IDEA data reporting, and produces user-friendly reports. This plugin is available for state education agencies in the Ed-Fi Exchange. The Generate plugin is just the beginning of our work to relieve education reporting headaches.

4. Real-Time Insights

This is the Big Kahuna Benefit of interoperability because the possibilities for teaching, learning, and administration are truly endless. Data interoperability allows every person in the education ecosystem—the teacher, the student, the parent, the principal, the superintendent, the technologist, and on and on—to make data-informed decisions. Exploring Ed-Fi use cases can help open our minds to the possibilities this data-driven approach unlocks.

Teacher referencing a chart on a data visualization tool

In terms of how insights are actually surfaced and used in the classroom, there are countless data visualization methods out there to deliver useful info to educators, students, and parents. The Ed-Fi Data Visualization & Reporting Workgroup is currently exploring innovative options that will inform our future visualization offerings.

5. Long-Term Time & Cost Savings

Data interoperability is an investment. Much like “going green,” it requires a heavy lift upfront. Once the data standard has been implemented and data sources are being integrated one by one, it becomes a less intense, ongoing process of feedback and refinement. 

Since most school districts and states implementing Ed-Fi are still in the first year or two of the process, they’re just starting to witness the time & cost-savings benefits. Their teachers, technologists, and administrators are now spending less time in spreadsheets and more time doing what they do best: teaching, analyzing, and leading. 

Of course, time and cost savings are contingent upon an education agency’s data governance, and what resources are available to them. Not every district has a data scientist, though we think every district should!

Efficiency and cost savings are also dependent on whether implementing data interoperability is followed by a true culture shift. Organizing and standardizing the data is great, but using the data to drive decision-making is what can lead to greater efficiency and legitimate cost savings. 

So, Here’s Your Big Assignment for the Year:

We think there’s a pretty solid argument here for prioritizing data interoperability. Not to mention, the rich information you’ll have access to, which will guide you in tackling any and all of the gravest challenges you’re facing today. 

Need even more reasons to get interoperable? You can contact us anytime to arrange a video conference, where we’ll talk through the Ed-Fi technology in reference to your needs and answer any questions you have. We’re here to help you throughout the planning process, as well as during implementation.

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