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3 Challenges for Data Interoperability in Education Technology

3 Challenges for Data Interoperability in Education Technology

A new report from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) found that while many states have figured out how to share multiple sources of education data to reduce manual data entry or improve data consistency, they still struggle to use data "to present a full picture of student learning."

"State Education Leadership for Interoperability: Leveraging Data for Academic Excellence" profiled the data interoperability work of nine states to understand the challenges they've faced in their data usage efforts as well as the benefits.

This isn't the first time the organization has tackled the topic of data interoperability. In 2013 SETDA released a report to examine the major K-12 data standards and interoperability initiatives underway at that time. (Full disclosure: This reporter helped produce that report.) Since then some of those efforts — inBloom — have gone by the wayside. What hasn't changed is the need for districts and educators to get access to certain kinds of data for accountability work, guiding instructional decisions and doing school administration and operations.

As the report noted, data interoperability has many use cases. It's useful for student information handover related to transcripts, attendance and discipline; support for "data backpacks," that preserve information about student progress and can transfer data from one learning management system to another; and accumulation of digital "learning objects" into a class, grade, school or district repository for quick access.

Among the challenges states and districts face in their data exchange work is a lack of understanding about the importance of interoperability, inconsistency of standards and lack of access to data in a usable format, and an inability to communicate why data exchange is important for student learning. "Convincing teachers that using data to personalize learning will be easier and reduce their burden can be difficult," the report stated.

The report offered numerous recommendations. The first one is using implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as an "opportunity" to expand interoperability efforts. For example, Michigan's state plan for ESSA directly links goals to the need for interoperability; that's tied to legislative priorities that call for the "seamless transmission of data from the districts to the state and back ... with minimal effort and duplication."

The establishment of a data governance structure within the state department of education is also important, according to the report, to put rails along the process of collecting, security and ensuring the quality of data.

Collaboration with districts also gets a nod, even for "local control" states. By including districts in planning related to interoperability, states will help them with their procurement process; districts will be able to choose applications that go beyond compliance with federal and state reporting to incorporate the use of data for meeting student learning goals too.

"Research like this supports the entire interoperability movement, and we were happy to share our own successes and challenges to serve a larger purpose," said Patches Hill, director and chief information officer for technology operations at the Delaware Department of Education, which was profiled in the report. "Without an interoperability implementation plan and buy-in from stakeholders, it is difficult to maximize the use of data for student learning. This report will help address that gap."

"SETDA has done an excellent job of pulling together many different perspectives and voices to deliver this valuable resource to their members," added Maureen Wentworth, manager of strategic partnerships at the Ed-Fi Alliance. "The report captures the current state of play in the ed tech market, the challenges and benefits of bringing interoperability to state education agencies and a clear outline of the resources state leaders might use to begin their own journey towards interoperability practices."

The work was supported through funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and in partnership with the Ed-Fi Alliance.

It's openly available on the SETDA website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.