The phrase “data interoperability,” referring to the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications, is increasingly a topic of conversation among educators on personalized learning and student privacy. These conversations often arrive at the same conclusion: data interoperability is important and we need it, but how do we accomplish it?

In the past year, the League of Innovative Schools team has listened and learned from district leaders about their greatest challenges when it comes to data interoperability and how they are working to solve these problems.

More than 40 district leaders who are in charge of their district’s technology efforts attended a workshop in October 2017 to tackle data interoperability challenges. One of the most prominent problems district leaders agreed on was the lack of real-time, secure, accurate, and two-way communication between data systems. Essentially, in many cases, a district’s student information system (SIS), which supports registering students in courses, documenting files like transcripts and assessment scores, building student schedules, and tracking student attendance, is not connected to edtech products that support learning core subjects. Since data systems don’t speak to each other, districts must either manually enter data from one system to the other, or write coding scripts to translate data which may update the systems on a nightly or hourly basis. Either way, the disconnect between the two systems creates a delay in real-time and actionable data for teachers and administrators.

District leaders focused on determining the root causes of the issue and why it still exists in schools. Out of the many factors they identified, the most prominent root cause was districts’ communication challenge conveying in the importance of data interoperability; specifically, they recognized the need to share what data interoperability means for protecting student data from security threats and saving time and costs with others from their district and vendors.

As a response, district leaders are working toward building collective demand around data interoperability. One mechanism for collective action is district commitment to the data interoperability pledge created by Project Unicorn, an initiative spearheaded by Erin Mote, League member and co-founder of Brooklyn Labs Schools. Districts signing the pledge commit to:

  • Help students and families transition to connected classrooms;
  • Advocate for data interoperability to empower teachers, students, and families;
  • Accelerate progress toward data interoperability for all classrooms; and
  • Provide access to quality, data standard aligned digital content.

With these four actions, districts are pledging to protect student data, make informed instructional decisions based on relevant student data, procure only edtech tools that protect student data and privacy, and align, curate, and use a digital infrastructure aligned to a data standard. At least two hundred charter and traditional public school systems, including some League districts, have already signed the Project Unicorn pledge.

As Digital Promise continues to work with district leaders on this pressing challenge, resources will be be shared and developed to help schools achieve data interoperability. To stay updated, please sign up to receive our newsletter. To learn more about district challenges and priorities around data interoperability, please view this infographic.

About Vina Vo

Vina Vo is the Program Manager for the League of Innovative Schools.

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