Authored by Scott Kuykendall, Technical Lead, Delaware Department of Education 

In Delaware, we have reached an exciting milestone in our transformative Ed-Fi Upgrade to Version 3.1. Last week, we got data flowing from an on-prem eSchoolPlus test instance through PowerSchool’s Ed-Fi Data Exchange and into our ODS, and we are now beginning testing of the entire process!

How We Got Started with Ed-Fi

Delaware has a long history with the Ed-Fi Data Standard. We previously implemented a Version 1.2 Ed-Fi-based dashboard system for our teachers and administrators, displaying and organizing student data to better support our state’s educators. This was implemented along with a data warehouse product—Otis Ed’s iMart warehouse solution—as part of Delaware’s Race to the Top project.

The vision for our warehouse was to be the single definitive repository of data for state reporting and analysis. Prior to our initial Ed-Fi implementation, we had many different pockets of data and analysis depended on the data managers of these siloed pockets to make their own assumptions. Our standardized data warehouse has given our entire agency a single location to focus on when collecting data, performing quality assurance, and reporting.

Taking our Implementation to the Next Level

Having a single source to store data (the warehouse) was a definite improvement. And, similar when you buy a home and the list of improvement projects soon follows, the warehouse highlighted our remaining deficiencies.

After standing up our data warehouse, we identified the following areas for improvement:

  • Delaware’s State Report Card project requires that we achieve higher quality data and traceability.
  • We were collecting a whole lot of “nice to have” data we weren’t using. As it turns out, if the data is not looked at, it cannot be of high quality.
  • Tracking down data issues or verifications was onerous and involved our technical folk researching through several layers of ETLs (Extract, Transform, Load procedure).
  • Not all of our reporting had moved to source from the warehouse yet. Some reports still hit the source systems themselves, or even captured and manipulated that data in isolation.
  • The many custom ETLs, particularly around loading assessment data, proved time-consuming and difficult to maintain. Vendors would often change data formats year to year, requiring ongoing analysis and a specialist specific to our Delaware environment.
  • Change requests for new data collections came fast and furious, without a good request process, and was causing the warehouse to change throughout the school year. We needed a strategic plan for what data we wanted to collect.

So, while the dashboard and our warehouse had vastly improved our state’s ability to give teachers and administrators access to actionable insights, our processes of loading and maintaining the data still needed work. We still needed to work on standardizing the data (imagine that!) and how it’s loaded.

Our 3.1 Project

We have now embarked on a multi-year effort in partnership with the Ed-Fi Alliance, Otis Ed (our warehouse vendor), Double Line Partners, PowerSchool (the vendor of our state-standard eSchoolPlus SIS), and numerous groups at the Delaware Department of Education, as well as ESP Solutions (who offer a documentation product/service we believe is crucial).

Over the last year:

  • We have completed an extensive examination of all data elements collected for the warehouse, as well as identified alternate data flows that did not go through the warehouse (but should). Our focus for Phase 1 (which we are currently working on) is SIS data from eSchoolPlus, plus two assessments.
    • This has been an unprecedented group effort within our department, including program experts, data reporting experts, and our warehouse team.
  • PowerSchool was interested in including Ed-Fi support for the eSchoolPlus project, so we spelled that out in our contract in Summer 2018. We provided the results of the above analysis and suggested mappings to the Ed-Fi Standard (at that point Version 3.0). Throughout last fall and winter, we supported their analysis around the mapping.
  • Otis Ed was contracted to co-develop the warehouse loaders for eSchoolPlus data with our internal team, sourcing it from Ed-Fi (upgraded to Version1 when it launched). They created both a reference implementation and one customized to use Ed-Fi’s Delaware-specific areas and extensions.
  • We have worked with ESP Solutions, providing them the mappings PowerSchool was using and the ones the warehouse team developed. With this project is done, we should have traceability from eSchoolPlus through the Warehouse, leading to no more tickets asking, “Where does element X come from?”

Just last week, we got PowerSchool’s Data Exchange services publishing scrubbed data from an internally hosted eSchoolPlus instance to our Ed-Fi 3.1 API.  We are very excited about this accomplishment and are now beginning a 10-week User Acceptance Testing (UAT) cycle of both the mappings and a first iteration of validating the mapping. Up until now, we only had a vision of how to improve our processes. Now, the data is actually flowing!

Why it Matters

The ultimate goal of all our work is to support student learning by providing educators the information they need. Delaware educators have found value in the EdInsight Dashboard. My own wife is an elementary school counselor and has assisted her colleagues using the tool to access the data they need.

As the technical experts, our job is to ensure the data we produce is accurate and timely. Our Ed-Fi upgrade is a first step toward doing this in a more standardized, coherent, and repeatable fashion. This will lead to better information for our educators. 

Looking Ahead

There’s still work to be done—UAT testing, building our production environment which will include all 42 eSchoolPlus instances for the state, testing the warehouse loaders, and completing documentation.

By this fall, we hope to achieve the complete data flow from eSchoolPlus, through the PowerSchool Data Exchange, through Ed-Fi, and to our warehouse. When we reach this point, we will run our old and new systems in parallel for a period of time.  We have built ETLs to load several assessments and are working with other states and vendors to provide API (Application Programming Interface) support.

When we did the initial analysis that informed this major project, we decided (through a new governance structure we put in place) that we would only collect data that is needed. No more collecting data that might be nice to have. We were drowning in data that was never looked at, meaning it was costly and of poor quality. We set out these watchwords for our teams to work by:  “Intentional, High-Quality Data Collection.”  Over time, we plan to deliver even more effectively on this mantra, with more and more of our data areas flowing into the Ed-Fi ODS automatically.

Scott Kuykendall won the 2018 Ed-Fi Community Award for Technical Lead. He plays a key role in the Ed-Fi Community by providing continuous guidance on Ed-Fi Version 3.0. Scott is leading the Delaware Department of Education’s efforts to harness the benefits of interoperability for his state.

Scott is continuously engaged with the Ed-Fi Community by participating in SEA special interest groups, presenting the Version 3.0 model to fellow community members, and helping the Ed-Fi Alliance conduct research to improve our model.  

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