Ed-Fi does more than simply make student data useable. It also allows ed-tech companies to create next generation tools.

“From our first meeting in Tennessee, it was very clear that Ed-Fi technology took into account everything it needed to, from features to protection of privacy.”

—Ray Ackerlund, VP of Marketing & Product Management

SIS Provider, Skyward Inc., Now Certified on Ed-Fi Data Standard from Ed-Fi Alliance on Vimeo.

Skyward makes education administration software—and has been since their founding in 1980 (when “software” was a brand new concept). Skyward attributes its longevity to its flexibility: It has spent nearly 50 years complying with the endless, always-changing local and state reporting requirements.

And that’s how it’s been for decades: As each state creates its own rules about how educational data should be collected, stored, and reported, the ed-tech market has exploded with one-off solutions tailored to each state’s unique ecosystem.

Owing to this complexity, Skyward spends up to $1 million just to enter a new state’s ed-tech marketplace—and upward of 1,500 valuable development hours getting up to speed with that state’s rules, policies, and structure.

In other words, Skyward spends a lot of brainpower—brainpower that could be used on innovation and growth—on essentially duplicating their work for each new project.

The Negative Effects of Siloed Data Systems on Ed-Tech Development

Because each state—sometimes each school district—adheres to its own reporting rules (and doesn’t coordinate with fellow states on a single standard) companies that want to build next-generation educational technology are forced to develop custom solutions every time the rules change. They can’t simply integrate their software; they have to tinker with it constantly, keeping it always aligned with the state’s evolving rules around education data.

But the drawbacks don’t stop there.

Budgeting becomes a problem, too. When deciding how much money to allocate to maintenance and ongoing development of technology—such as a state’s primary student information systems (SISs)—administrators find themselves at a loss. It’s more of a guessing game than it should be, especially for multi-year vendor contracts. Will it cost $1 million to keep the SISs updated, or a mere $250k? What about next year, and the year after that?

Also, the complexity of myriad data systems—and more importantly, their inability to communicate and report together—make it very difficult for ed-tech vendors to move into a new state, thus reducing the exposure educators have to potentially revolutionary tools. The costs and timelines may be too burdensome for developers to deliver an otherwise effective piece of software to a state’s education agency.

Until educational technologies like Skyward are built on the same data standard, schools will continue to spend needless resources trying to secure and make sense of their data.

The Ed-Fi Data Standard Paves The Way

In 2012, the state of Tennessee decided it needed to standardize and simplify its student information systems. In close collaboration with Ed-Fi, the Tennessee Department of Education identified five student information systems it would recommend its districts use—one of which was Skyward.

Districts wouldn’t be required to use these five vendors, but if they did, the state would subsidize about half of the cost-per-student of using the state-approved SIS. (That’s what economists call a “strong incentive.”)

When Tennessee analyzed the data elements it tracked for each student, it learned that only 81 of 893 possible data elements were unique to Tennessee. In other words, more than 90% of the data Tennessee tracked about its students were also tracked by other states—some of whom were already using the Ed-Fi Data Standard.

For Skyward, this was great news. It meant that integrating the Ed-Fi Data Standard into their products and employing the Ed-Fi API would get Skyward almost all the way to full compliance with Tennessee’s reporting requirements. It also meant far less time spent doing custom development just for Tennessee; Skyward could “re-use” much of the coding they’d already done. In fact, Skyward recouped its investment in Tennessee’s school districts within its first year.

Shifting Resources to the Future

As an education technology developer, Skyward watches its investments closely. Every hour of development time is crucial. Before Ed-Fi, a good chunk of those hours were spent engineering their tools to work on a per-state basis.

But once Skyward had aligned its tools with Ed-Fi, it was able to free up thousands of hours of development time each year. Those hours were then immediately shifted to developers’ true love: building more powerful, helpful, and usable tools and features.

Ed-Fi helps ed-tech companies integrate faster and evolve more quickly.

But the benefits don’t stop at the vendor. Schools using technology powered by Ed-Fi also see a range of improvements. For Tennessee, this means:

  • Data is more accurate
  • Reports are on time and take less time to generate
  • Maintenance costs drop
  • Analysis is more robust
  • Schools have more control

It’s no secret that Ed-Fi helps empower schools in new ways, but the long-term benefits to the evolution of educational technology are just now beginning to show up. Companies like Skyward who adopt Ed-Fi are poised to create the future of how education happens.