How one bold technology company uses Ed-Fi to boost the power of its products.

“Technology is never going to replace great teachers. However, there are ways to give teachers and schools better tools that allow them to be smarter about student information and bringing together operational and instructional data.”

—Erin Mote, Executive Director
InnovateEDU (maker of Cortex)

InnovateEDU is a not-for-profit organization that uses technology to disrupt K-12 education. Their focus? Eliminating the achievement gap. As they explain on their website, InnovateEDU wants to put “students’ and teachers’ needs at the heart of design.”

It’s no wonder, then, that InnovateEDU decided to do something about student data.

They noticed that even the most technically savvy schools must track student data across a number of different systems. Wanting to give educators and administrators a holistic view of every student—and to empower students themselves to “own their data”—InnovateEDU created Cortex.

What Cortex Can Do

Cortex can seemingly do everything a school needs. But fundamentally, Cortex is three things:

  1. Student information system (SIS)
  2. Learning management system (LMS)
  3. Formative assessment engine

What sets the solution apart from some of its competitors is that both teachers and students can login to Cortex.

Teachers can create “progressions” for individual students (or sets of students), including helping them complete remediation or extension content. Cortex shows teachers each student’s mastery of different learning experiences. In other words, Cortex illustrates both what and how students learn best.

Meanwhile, students log into Cortex to see their individualized learning plan—including agenda, upcoming events, teacher communication, etc. Students can view educational content and even complete assignments online. As Cortex puts it, “This puts students at the center of their own learning.” They can track their grades and progress reports—and see, in detail, how we’ll they’re mastering their studies.

“Cortex enables schools to get better each day at designing experiences that enhance student intellective character and competence.”

—Eric Tucker, Executive Director
Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School

But make no mistake: Cortex isn’t just a tool for small, innovative charter schools. Because the platform is highly configurable and agnostic to any particular academic model, Cortex can be used by any school district.

“Cortex has a built-in elasticity that allows anyone to plug any academic model into the system and it will work,” explains Erin Mote of InnovateEDU. “I think we’ve solved a real problem that many schools have right now when attempting to advance digitally powered education.”

Better Education Through Technology

Erin Mote had a problem.

She’d helped found the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School—a member of the Next Generation Learning Challenges network. This network, known as NGLC, brings together “forward-leaning educators” who want to “unleash the power of education leaders and teachers to … redesign their schools around the most impactful forms of learning.”

NGLC is trying to revolutionize education. And yet, technology seemed to be standing in the way.

Or so thought Mote when, in 2014, she met with her fellow educators to discuss the challenges their unique schools were facing. Time and again her colleagues described the same problem Mote was feeling: We have big ideas about education and data and new models, but we don’t have the technology to make them real and scalable.

It wasn’t much later that Mote founded InnovateEDU as a response to this prevalent challenge. To her, it was clear that schools need a systematic way to record, analyze, and act upon operational, instructional, and assessment data about students.

She envisioned a secure, web-based platform that gave teachers a 360-degree view of students—going beyond attendance, discipline, and generic lessons plans to formative assessment results, courseware, and customized student portfolios.

Ed-Fi Solves For X, Y, Z…and A, B, C

By collaborating with a number of schools in the NGLC, including Mote’s school, Brooklyn Lab, InnovateEDU crafted a set of design and technology principles that an ideal learning platform would include.

That “ideal learning platform” would soon become Cortex. But first, Mote and her team at InnovateEDU needed a “technical backbone.” If they were going to store and secure almost every piece of student data in a single piece of software, that software needed to be flexible and manageable and well-supported.

Enter Ed-Fi.

By adopting the Ed-Fi Data Standard, along with the robust storage capabilities of the Ed-Fi Operational Data Store, InnovateEDU was able to develop Cortex  in 10 weeks.

In just over two months, InnovateEDU led the development of a feature-rich, game-changer in the ed-tech space.

“Having the Ed-Fi technology and schema available to us meant we didn’t have to start from scratch,” shares Mote. “It gave us the ability to build a platform that is both easily scalable and sustainable.”

Because Ed-Fi is so flexible, Cortex is able to offer its own user interface. And because the Ed-Fi Operational Data Store underpins the entire system, Cortex remains secure and operationally compliant.

Years after Mote’s first inkling that NGLC could make big strides if they only had the right tools at their disposal, Cortex is continuing make personalized learning a reality for both teachers and students.

“Having the Ed-Fi technology and schema available to us meant we didn’t have to start from scratch,” shares Mote. “It gave us the ability to build a platform that is both easily scalable and sustainable.”

—Erin Mote, Executive Director

Ed-Fi is a Community

InnovateEDU loves being a part of the ever-growing Ed-Fi Community—a group of educators, technologists, and thought leaders that continues to expand and improve Ed-Fi’s capabilities. In fact, Cortex was developed with significant help from fellow community members.

Here’s one example of the community at work:

After talking with their peers at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (also powered by Ed-Fi), InnovateEDU learned about a number of possible features they could include:

  • Interventions for social-emotional challenges
  • More nuanced academic supports
  • Predictive attendance tools

Additional community conversations helped shape the Cortex user interface—saving InnovateEDU countless hours of design and development. And now, years later, InnovateEDU is returning its wisdom to the community as a fellow collaborator.

“The use of the Ed-Fi technology in Cortex has helped deliver robust new functionality in an incredibly short timeframe. In just a few months, dozens of new features have been added that will help us realize the vision of truly personalized learning for our scholars.”

—Lisa Minott, Director of Technology
Greenfield Achievement First