How can school leaders keep track of minute student data points in their district—then turn those numbers into action to improve instruction?
Each student amasses hundreds of thousands of data points throughout their K12 career. Now, school leaders are expected to make sense of these data points, report them to various agencies, and put them to work to improve student outcomes.
Interoperability standards like Ed-Fi make this possible every step of the way. Thanks to these standards, school leaders make data-driven decisions confidently using the wealth of data they already have. Here’s how it works.
First, let’s define what exactly is considered a data point. Most people will immediately list data including personal identifying information, demographics, grades, and test scores. The full range of student data is even deeper, and includes:
- Courses, enrollment, grades
- Graduation information
- Teacher observations
- Quizzes, tests, formative assessments, and state assessments
- Participation, attendance, behavior, and extracurriculars
- Student-produced data including homework and practice programs
When considering the sheer volume of data and factoring in the various systems required to house it, the crucial role of standards regulating its management become clear. Ed-Fi data standards make it possible to speak a “common language,” according to the Ed-Fi website.
Ed-Fi helps with the management of data over its entire lifetime, from its creation to making data useful to retaining records long-term. Listen as two educational data experts discuss their experience with Ed-Fi standards.
Prior to Ed-Fi standards, and even today, each system teachers used to track student progress had its own method of storing data. Practice software couldn’t report to grading software which couldn’t report to the student information system. Occasionally school data pros got crafty with the .csv file, and were able to upload files of information to be stored, but not truly absorbed, by different systems.
Because Ed-Fi gives schools a common language to use, data can be seamlessly transferred between systems easily using APIs. This frees schools up to use the best tools for different jobs (think grading systems vs. assessment systems) while still being able to gather all the student data together into a single record for the student within a student information system.
This eliminates data silos and cuts down on time spent manually re-entering data.
The next step in the data lifecycle requires school leaders to decide how different data will be stored. This will change as students progress to different schools and eventually move on to graduation.
Certain records must be retained for a specific number of years or even indefinitely. As technology evolves, standards will too. Many, many schools have records stored on microfilm, microfiche, in paper form, and in online databases. Ed-Fi standards mean going forward, students’ permanent records will remain accessible even as technology changes—which we can’t really claim is true for microfilm and microfiche.
At all times, protecting student data is of the utmost importance to school leaders. Ransomware lurks in many government agencies, but schools have the added responsibility of protecting children’s personally identifiable information among their student data.
Ed-Fi standards build documentation and security into their systems and processes. Ed-Fi technology is encrypted, as well as protected from changes or destruction by hackers.
Educators, vendors, and other technology experts across 36 states have joined the Ed-Fi alliance, agreeing to the standards of data maintenance and protection. Members of the Ed-Fi community have access to data storage, integration, and validation tools.
There’s no point in gathering, organizing, and protecting data if it’s not used. Data-driven decisions are good for student outcomes. If data is available to map the incremental growth students achieve, personalized instruction is made possible. School leaders may also use teacher retention data to inform professional development decisions.
The ability to move data seamlessly between systems is key to making solid instructional decisions. Student records can easily travel between buildings and even other districts, meaning fewer students fall through the cracks as they transition from school to school.
Finally, Ed-Fi dashboards make it possible for educators to see data in action through visualizations and reporting. Data shifts from raw numbers and facts to actual insight into how students are learning.
The evolution of standards
Technology is not going to slow down. As it evolves, a set of standards can help guide the transitions between systems and processes. New systems are easier to implement and faster to integrate into the district’s processes. Ed-Fi standards give school leaders a solid foundation to anticipate change and create future processes.