You’ve outgrown your data system. The signs are all there: your system is clunky and slow; your data is outdated and riddled with quality errors; your stakeholders get little to no value from the data.

The decision to modernize, upgrade, or rip and replace seems easy enough to you; in fact, it’s a no brainer. But this leads to a discussion with your leadership about cost-utility, how long the implementation is going to take, and what approach makes the most sense for your agency or organization. Even when the need is clear cut, the decisions about direction can be tough (and out of your hands).

In preparation to answer these hard questions from your leadership, it’s essential to fully understand the wants and needs of your stakeholders and to weigh your options for moving forward by considering impact, cost, and support or resistance to the plan.

A Free Tool to Help: DecisionMaker

Earlier this year, Teachers College, Columbia University launched a free tool to help you do this prep work. Using a decision-making framework based on Multiattribute Utility Theory as developed by Edwards (1971); Edwards, Guttentag, and Snapper (1975); and Edwards and Newman (1982), their DecisionMaker tool facilitates school, district, and state education agency decisions that involve a choice between alternative educational activities, strategies, and interventions. DecisionMaker guides you through a ten-step process to evaluate your options and the associated costs.

In Kansas

The Kansas State Department of Education recently used the DecisionMaker framework to determine a plan of action for a key goal of their State Board’s strategic plan: The “creation of a standardized, actionable, dynamic data and reporting system.” Of course, the Kansas DoE was lucky in that they already had buy-in from leadership to implement data interoperability.

The decision Kansas faced was, “What is the best student information system implementation model for us to adopt across the state that will directly support our mission to prepare students for lifelong success?”  The DecisionMaker framework helped their team identify their goals, different models to consider, and the stakeholders they needed to bring to the table. To gather stakeholder input, they conducted interviews and solicited feedback from districts large and small, comparing benefits and costs across the different options. The DecisionMaker tool allows different stakeholders to express their preferences by assigning different weights to the criteria used to evaluate the options being considered.

The end results of Kansas DoE’s analysis were rankings of the model options based on utility, cost, and cost-utility ratio, a return on investment metric. These were used to create a recommendation meeting their Board’s requirements. Ultimately, the recommendation Kansas reached was to continue to allow districts to choose their own SIS vendors, standup an operational data store at the state, and require consistent, standardized data reporting to that data store. This model of implementation meets the goals of honoring local district control while streamlining reporting functionality and delivering real-time, high-quality data to prepare students for lifelong success.

In Arizona

With similar goals for local control, streamlined reporting, and increase data quality, the Arizona Department of Education implemented Ed-Fi in 2015. Arizona’s modernized reporting system combines the consistency of standardized data elements with the efficiency of a REST API to streamline the submission and consumption of education data in Arizona.

Today, Arizona processes as many as 3 million transactions a day. The real-time data connection using the Ed-Fi API has allowed the department to reduce the time required to calculate average daily membership (ADM) from 5 days to less than 1 hour.  Arizona’s Department of Education CTO Britto Augustine highlights the benefits, saying, “We have a single source of truth, so we report out of that and in a timely fashion, so it is more accurate. It is going to save about $40 Million for Arizona.” 

In Delaware

Similarly, in Delaware, an Ed-Fi implementation is expected to result in a significant return on investment in the coming months. “Delaware is already seeing the benefit of a standards-based approach to our dataverse reports Dr. Patches Hill, Director & CIO, Delaware Department of Education. “Although we initially got into Ed-Fi for the interoperability, we are seeing data quality and governance being quicker wins as we work towards a fully interoperable ecosystem for learning.  Over time we anticipate a direct return on investment in regard to a savings in operating/personnel costs due to moving from multiple proprietary data formats to a common standard.”

The Ed-Fi Data Standard serves as a unifying mechanism for a growing number of states and districts. The result is a simplified approach to implementation and the ability for agencies of all sizes to maximize the cost-utility ratio.



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