Empowering an entire state of educators with a single Ed-Fi integration.
“It’s the best solution I’ve seen in that it standardizes data in an open fashion across districts, states and vendors. It’s a great hybrid approach between the districts, ISDs, state, and national needs to make data consistent, shareable, and usable in each environment.”
—Kurt Rheaume, Manager, Student Information Systems
Wayne Regional Education Service Agency
Enough was enough.
A few years ago, educators in Michigan found themselves fed up. For years, school districts had been buying, implementing, and using different pieces of technology in their schools. One type of software to record attendance, another for assessment, another for health. And so on.
But all of that helpful student data was trapped—siloed into technology platforms that couldn’t communicate with one another. Formulating a complete view—of each student, school, or district—was nearly impossible. Teachers’ hands were tied. Superintendents found technology to be a barrier to reporting. And state-level administrators didn’t have easy access to data to help them know how, where, or when to allocate key resources. The knowledge existed; it just couldn’t be accessed.
Frustrated, a group of school districts came together in early 2015 to search for the best solution. They formed the Michigan Data Hub (MDH). The MDH’s mission was simple enough: Find a system for consolidating, securing, and making all student data available to educators at once.
What the Solution Needed to Do
“Student data” is a daunting concept. Each student accumulates countless potential data points every day—attendance, grades, behavior, health, transportation, etc. Multiplied by the number of days in a school year, then again by the number of students in a school district, it becomes obvious: There are millions of data points in the average school district.
To select a solution for such a large, complex, high-stakes project requires collaboration. And therein lies the beauty of what Michigan educators did next. They got serious about student data management by forming and funding the Michigan Data Hub and invited stakeholders from around the state to contribute to the conversation.
Those conversations identified what an ideal data solution would do:
The big kahuna of goals, “interoperability” simply meant that whatever solution the MDH picked, it must allow myriad existing data systems to “talk” with one another. The good news? Six different student information systems (SIS) accounted for 93% of the state’s students. If MDH could find a way to standardize the data in those six systems—i.e., record and store data in the same manner—they would almost completely fulfill their mission.
Once the data is shareable, the solution should also facilitate the sharing itself. Individual schools should be able to formulate reports quickly and send them up to the district office. The district office meanwhile, could take advantage of the solution to send reports and custom dashboards back to the individual schools.
The prospect of overhauling the entire state of Michigan’s educational data system sounds like a potentially exhaustive and expensive endeavor. So the MDH wanted an elegant solution—something so fundamental and well-designed that it wouldn’t drain money, time, or resources. They didn’t want to just slap another piece of technology on their growing pile of tools. Instead, the MDH wanted a solution that underlied all of their existing systems.
Access & Usability
Once the data was standardized and stored, the solution should allow educators and administrators—at every level—to easily access what they need. Building and viewing reports should be an empowering experience, offering almost real-time insights into how Michigan’s students were doing, from the classroom up.
And finally, the MDH could not impose a strict, statewide set of policies and rules. It just wouldn’t work. So whatever solution they identified, the MDH needed to ensure that at the district (and even classroom) level, the educators “on the ground” could continue to operate in the best way possible. The solution needed to actually deliver more control, not strip it away.
Michigan Picks Ed-Fi
After an exhaustive search, the Michigan Data Hub project selected Ed-Fi as their complete solution—a data standard and suite of technology that would transform educational data across the state.
“It’s a long-term solution that will benefit the students in the state for a long time into the future. The cost savings from eliminating redundant systems and processes should garner long-term support from districts and allow them to use resources more efficiently and effectively.”
—Tim Hall, Project Director
Technology Readiness Infrastructure Grant
Choosing Ed-Fi—which facilitates data interoperability across many systems and tools—meant school districts wouldn’t have to replace their existing technologies. Ed-Fi and its API maps data from each student information system (SIS) to the Ed-Fi Data Standard, bringing those once-siloed databases onto a common platform. Then, the Ed-Fi Operational Data Store houses the information, aggregates it, then shares it back to schools, districts, and the state.
Ed-Fi is a not-for-profit organization fully funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation—meaning the cost of licensing Ed-Fi is zero. And because Ed-Fi has already been adopted by dozens of state education agencies and thousands of individual school districts, Ed-Fi is being constantly improved. The result: Adopting Ed-Fi across the state was the most cost-effective solution available.
The Ongoing Benefits of Ed-Fi
Ed-Fi isn’t an idea; it’s a real solution. It bridges the data gap in a variety of practical, helpful ways. These include:
Complete, Real-Time Views
With Ed-Fi bringing their systems together, teachers can now have a holistic view into how each student is doing today. Teachers can be more agile now, able to adapt their learning plans for each student’s unique situation.
Less Time on Reports
Before Ed-Fi, administrators might spend days accumulating the reports they need. Ed-Fi eliminates the need for clunky spreadsheets and countless hours spent making them usable. With a few clicks of a button, educators can see accurate reports.
Data Follows the Students
Students are constantly on the move. Now that the entire state has migrated to the Ed-Fi Data Standard, if a student moves schools, nothing is lost. It’s all right there.
Existing Technology Gets a Boost
The various technological tools that educators are currently using will become more useful and feature-rich with Ed-Fi in place. As interoperability increases, so too will what these tools can do.
Ed-Fi helps states save money in a number of ways. Districts won’t have to spend valuable time building and maintaining their own educational dashboards; those can come from the state agency. But more importantly, the near-real-time insights that Ed-Fi helps provide allow policymakers and administrators to allocate resources where they’re actually needed.
The Final Word
As with countless other states and school district who have implemented Ed-Fi across the country, Michigan is enjoying the benefits quickly. More data at a lower cost. Local control over technology choices. Vendors who can deploy more efficiently and inexpensively.
But all of these benefits lead to a much larger, more fundamental improvement: Teachers able to teach better and students who able to learn more.
“It’s helpful to be able to work not only within our own state to save money, but also—through the Ed-Fi Alliance—with a collective of states across the country that have created new solutions.”
—Dirk Bradley, Data Warehouse Programmer/Analyst