Data Interoperability: Beyond Accountability and Reporting

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Teacher. Classroom facilitator. Database analyst? This new role for educators is a direct outcome of the data-driven classroom and the quest for accountability. While teachers may understand the need to collect the information, they resent inputting the same data over and over again in every learning management system, educational application, and state and federal accountability report. More important, the data entry can seem pointless when the outcomes aren’t applicable to the students. In an edWebinar for edWeb, Dr. Tracy Weeks, executive director for SETDA, and her co-presenters discussed how implementing data interoperability standards can turn data from a daily chore into a productive tool that can provide educators with a more complete picture of the student, class, school, or district.

Typically, at the beginning of the school year, teachers have limited information about their students; they have to build a profile of their students over time, which wastes instructional hours when the they could be developing more targeted lessons and growth plans. The goal of data interoperability, explained Maureen Wentworth, manager for strategic partnership at the Ed-Fi Alliance, is for every educator to be able to see and use their data immediately from every program regardless of platform. Key characteristics include real-time updates, quality data in and out, educator and school control of the data, and flexibility in reporting. She emphasized that no single standard can do all of the work due to the scope of data needed across K-12 as well as the breadth of technical applications and complexity. However, when the programs can talk to each other and teachers can access the data they need from a single dashboard, then the data is working for the students and teachers instead of becoming a burden.

In collaboration with the Ed-Fi Alliance, SETDA is examining how to leverage that shared data for academic excellence. Comprised of a coalition of state teams, private sector partners, and interoperability leaders, SETDA’s working group looked at three key areas: the future state of teaching and learning with interoperable data, the importance of interoperable data, and how states can achieve it. Furthermore, the members developed use cases for the new standards, such as student transfer information, personalized learning, and learning object repository. The idea, said Dr. Weeks, is to understand how data can be used to support the school and classroom, rather than just viewing it as a reporting object.

Angela Baker, a digital content manager for the Georgia Department of Education, shared examples of how her state’s system has aided students and teachers. Launched in 2011, the SLDS-One Integrated Solution is more than a longitudinal data system. Among other resources, it is a repository for professional development and digital student curriculum; student rosters, schedules, and demographics; and attendance and grades. An essential feature is that the different applications not only talk to each other, but the data elements are the same at every level (teacher, school, and district), improving usability. Moreover, the system can accommodate any file type due to the interoperable nature of the platform and also uses a standard set of metadata to organize resources.

Partially inspired by Georgia’s platform, Nebraska is also working towards a statewide interoperability system. Dr. Dean R. Folkers, chief information officer for the Nebraska Department of Education, admitted that his state’s previous focus was on accountability only. A state review found, though, that staff spent 655,200 hours a year on those submissions. In addition, districts had unequal access to state systems depending on size, and despite the money spent on technology, there was inequity across the districts. Moving forward, Nebraska’s plan includes reducing the burdens on staff, increasing privacy and security, and making sure that the data is supporting teaching and learning. Ultimately, the goal for all of these initiatives is to create a digital ecosystem where interoperability is more than an efficient reporting system but a foundation for effective teaching and learning.

This broadcast was hosted by edWeb.net and SETDA.

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This article was modified and published by EdScoop.

About the Presenters

Maureen Wentworth joined the Ed-Fi Alliance team in June of 2017 as a manager for strategic partnerships. In this role, she is responsible for driving measurable and meaningful adoption of the Ed-Fi standard, leading outreach and support for the Ed-Fi Alliance community, and helping to guide the direction by proving the “voice of the field”. Maureen has a demonstrated commitment to education and has spent her career working to improve systems so that all students have a chance to succeed.

Prior to joining the Ed-Fi Alliance, Maureen served as the director of education data and information systems at the Council of Chief State School Officers. While at CCSSO Maureen established the CIO Network and worked with state education agency leadership to leverage a collective influence throughout the education IT community. In her early career Maureen worked at a number of national and international organizations including Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, Greenhill Centre for Conflict Resolution in Northern Ireland, Project Vote, the American Youth Policy Forum, Every Child Matters, and Mentoring International. Maureen’s passion for serving kids drives everything she does. Maureen graduated from American University with a B.A. in political science and received her M.B.A. from the Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Dean R. Folkers currently oversees the Nebraska Department of Education’s Information, Technology, Data, and Digital Learning efforts. As the primary objectives of the state education agency evolve from a compliance orientation to one supporting quality access for every student, every day, Nebraska is working to implement transformational interoperable systems that ensure equity of access for schools and districts while providing valuable insights to inform policy and practice.

Prior to joining the Department, Dr. Folkers worked in a variety of capacities including in national nonprofit organizations in Career Technical Education, Agricultural Education, student leadership development and as an educator in both high school and adult agricultural education. Dr. Folkers received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln and his Doctorate of Management in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix.

Angela Baker is a digital content manager who works for the Georgia Department of Education to promote the use of OER content in classrooms by providing evaluated and aligned OER content through Georgia’s Statewide Longitudinal Data System or SLDS applications. Angela believes that providing educators with supplemental resources which have already been evaluated and aligned to standards is essential to assisting educators to provide more options for personalized learning and instruction. Angela has been an advocate for Open Resources since being an educator who needed additional content in order to provide a differentiated learning environment for all her students. She has collaborated with states and content providers to provide Georgia educators with more than 50,000 resources for all subjects and all grades. Angela holds a master’s degree in curriculum and technology integration as well as a specialist degree in educational leadership. In addition, Angela has more than 20 years of education experience which includes teaching students and educators.

About the Host

Dr. Tracy Weeks is the executive director for the State Education Technology Director’s Association (SETDA). Prior to joining the team at SETDA, she served as the chief academic and digital learning officer for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the first senior state leadership position of its kind in the nation. In that role, Dr. Weeks oversaw the areas of K-12 curriculum and instruction, career and technical education, exceptional children, and the North Carolina Virtual Public School. She also served as the state agency lead on the development of the North Carolina Digital Learning Plan.

From 2008-2014, Dr. Weeks led the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the second largest state-led virtual school in the nation, as the chief academic officer and subsequently the executive director. She holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary math education from UNC-Chapel Hill, a Masters of Education in instructional technology with a statistics minor and a Doctor of Philosophy in curriculum and instruction from NC State University. She is a NC Teaching fellow, NC Education Policy fellow, and a member of Phi Kappa Phi.

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Essential Elements for Digital Content is a free professional learning community that provides policy makers, school administrators and educator leaders a better understanding of policies and practices related to digital instructional materials.

setdaThe State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit membership association launched by state education agency leaders in 2001 to serve, support and represent their emerging interests and needs with respect to the use of technology for teaching, learning, and school operations. Our current work is guided by a strategic plan, Leading, Inspiring and Empowering: The 2013-16 SETDA Strategic Plan, adopted by the SETDA Board of Directors in October 2012 after extensive consultation with the membership. The SETDA mission is to build and increase the capacity of state and national leaders to improve education through technology policy and practice.