Digital equity is more important than ever, as schools continue to adjust to the unprecedented challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Several states have initiated Digital Equity data collection projects to better understand student access to the technology needed to support a virtual learning model within the home. 

Last month’s blog post “Disconnected Learning: Understanding Digital Equity” by Maureen Wentworth highlighted the quick response of the Ed-Fi community to develop a draft standard which was released in July and implemented by Wisconsin. The Digital Equity Collection Draft Standard provides a framework within the existing core Ed-Fi model to capture important details about a student’s access to the internet and electronic learning devices.  

The Ed-Fi Community in Action

Last Summer, Wisconsin shared a draft of what would eventually become the draft Ed-Fi Digital Equity standard with other licensees, including one of Double Line’s current clients, the Minnesota Department of Education. At the time, the Minnesota Department of Education (DOE) was already having internal discussions about how to collect and use this information. To avoid burdening their districts in an already difficult time, while enabling real-time data collection and leveraging data quality functionality, they were very interested in exploring the prospect of using their existing investments in Ed-Fi infrastructure to enable automated collection from districts. “The Ed-Fi Digital Equity Data Collection specification from Wisconsin was key to Minnesota doing just that,” said David Reeg, Software Development Supervisor with Minnesota IT Services. “By leveraging Wisconsin’s specification as is, MDE could also leverage the implementation planning that Wisconsin already had in place with four SIS vendors. Minnesota was also well-positioned at subsequent CCSSO Digital Equity meetings because the proposed data elements from CCSSO were well-aligned with the Wisconsin specification.” 

Sticking to the Standard – a Win-Win

The Digital Equity draft standard was intentionally modeled using existing core Ed-Fi domains.  The State Education Agency (SEA) user group’s rationale for this decision was related to the goal of reducing the development impact for SIS vendors, LEAs, and SEAs, which would minimize the overall effort and timeline required to get the collection up and running.   

Since digital equity is a concern for all states, the Digital Equity draft standard aimed to prescribe a consistent approach to modeling this data. Implementations that stick to the standard make it easier for national software vendors to support the collection and make it easier for states to share solutions built on top of the standard. Still, some implementers will face trade-offs where the standard as-is addresses most, but not all, of their use cases, and must decide to stick to the standard or extend using the Ed-Fi Extension Framework.

Minnesota decided that sticking to the standard would result in a win-win for all stakeholders.  Some of the factors leading to this decision include:

  • Vendor Integration Support:  SIS vendors implementing the draft standard for Wisconsin with a presence in Minnesota would be able to quickly turn on the Digital Equity screens and API integration. This is a big deal for SIS Vendors! Implementation of state-specific customizations can add months of development and testing to their timeline, decreasing the likelihood of vendor adoption and extending the time before which Minnesota would have the data it needs.  
  • Community Alignment: The draft standard came into existence through community cooperation sponsored by the Ed-Fi Alliance, and the standard will continue to grow and improve through community collaboration and communication. Minnesota stakeholders value the cross-state standardization effort and see a role for them to play in advancing that standardization. In addition, sticking to the standard enables them to participate more deeply in community governance discussions, to share with and to learn from other community members as they move forward with the collection as well as in the future to share solutions that leverage this data. 
  • Time to “market”: Adopting the core-based standard allowed the department to enable and deploy the data collection using API profiles in a sandbox environment in a much shorter time frame than a custom solution would have required.

In a previous blog post – “Knowing When to Extend”, Matt Warden points out that as more customizations to the standard are developed “the value of using a data standard diminishes and becomes a source of customer-specific code, when the opportunity provided by adopting the Ed-Fi Standard should be the opposite, leading to faster, more efficient release cycles.”

Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota IT Services and Minnesota SIS Vendors are benefitting from the intrinsic value that comes from the adoption of the community driven Ed-Fi Standards! As Jeff Plaman, Online and DIgital learning specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education notes “working with the Ed-Fi community has been especially valuable for the Minnesota Department of Education team as we learned from implementation efforts of our partners. This has allowed us to develop a process that was informed by what worked for others while surfacing potential pitfalls to avoid and address.” And those benefits will only continue to grow as more Ed-Fi community members do the same.

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