Ed-Fi Community Adapts Data Standard to Help States and Districts Address Digital Equity for Back to School Preparations

When schools shut their doors in March teachers and administrators hurried to take learning from the classroom to the kitchen table. Often that was done with anecdotal or not enough information on home internet connectivity and what access students had to devices for learning. Teachers were often left in the dark not knowing if a student was disengaged because they had no way to connect or if they just did not want to.

As states and school districts make plans to open schools this fall, they are contemplating every possible scenario for ensuring a full school year. That means a continued need to understand home connectivity and device access in preparation for full-time, blended, or as needed distance learning to ensure equitable access to education throughout the year.

However, what we experienced early on as districts pivoted to online learning was that the information was fragmented and unable to provide a clear view of what was happening on the ground. How can we help solve the problem and bridge the digital equity divide if we don’t know or can’t clearly identify who needs support?

We knew Ed-Fi could help. Through our states working group, our Community worked to adapt the Ed-Fi Data Standard so that this critical information could be systematically collected and analyzed by States allowing them to effectively support their districts.

“Addressing home access to the Internet has become far more
critical issue than solving the homework gap as we used
to describe this inequity.
Home access to the Internet is a matter
of basic access to education and economic opportunity,” reflects
John Keller, Chief Information Officer at the Indiana Department of Education. “While Indiana classrooms provide strong connectivity, there is more work to be
done so that all of Indiana’s living rooms
can serve as connected learning environments.”

For states, addressing this challenge starts with collecting data needed to fully understand where the gaps exist. Creating a full picture of the need throughout the state is essential when distributing federal pandemic relief funding through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Funding.  As Mr. Keller summarizes, “without precise data regarding home internet access at the student level, efforts to aggregate data, coordinate solutions, advocate for funding, coordinate investments and address the problem systematically will be fragmented and ineffective”.

“Collecting this information at the state level allows us to scale
the process and create efficiencies in that collection while
simultaneously improving the overall quality of the data”
states Kurt Kiefer, the Assistant State Superintendent
for the Division of Libraries and Technology at the Wisconsin
Department of Public Instruction. “We need not tackle this district
by district. Instead, we can create easily managed
systems to gather this data across all districts at once”.

The Ed-Fi Community heard this need loud and clear and began working collaboratively to determine what data would need to be collected in a standard approach. The Digital Equity Collection has been added as a working draft to the Ed-Fi Data Standard to collect information over a secure API around whether students have reliable internet access at home and if they have dedicated access to a device for learning.

“The Ed-Fi community allowed us to collaborate and share solutions without needlessly expending effort recreating wheels. Furthermore, by working in partnership with SIS vendors for this effort – like we do for all Ed Fi data collections efforts – we create scalable opportunities nationwide” explains Mr. Kiefer.

“The short and long term impact of this information provides unique opportunities to more strategically align and prioritize resources, vendor partnerships, and other public private supports focused on ensuring an equity of access in support of student learning” added Dr. Dean Folkers, Information Systems Officer at the Nebraska Department of Education.

This is exciting and important work as we endeavor on a school year of uncertainty and unknows.

Next Up: