Web portal helps California schools track and analyze data

New regulations set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)—requiring schools to produce disaggregated data on everything from student achievement to teacher assessment—have educators searching for ways to funnel those numbers toward improved instruction.

Now, California state officials have found a solution that promises to provide customizable, online access to assessment tools, professional development materials, and other data management resources from a centralized location.

The California Department of Education has implemented a web portal from iAssessment Inc., called the Gateway Presentation System (GPS), as part of its California Technology Assistance Project, a program to help educators better determine their level of technology proficiency.

According to iAssessment, GPS was developed as a tool that would tie the data collected by educators from across the state into one centralized location, where the data could be broken out and distributed to teachers and administrators in a safe, secure, and customized environment.

The idea is to take the overwhelming amount of data collected on everything from student achievement to standardized testing and package it in such a way that lets educators easily extract the information they need to better fulfill their individual roles, said Dan Cookson, co-founder of iAssessment.

“We provide a framework to help them manage how the data [are] distributed,” Cookson said.

According to Cookson, that framework was designed with three key aspects in mind: providing access to professional development systems, making available tools for assessment, and offering a way to report data and qualify results.

Nancy Sullivan, manager of the California Department of Education’s office of educational technology, said GPS already has been helpful in assessing how well-prepared teachers are for new technology integration.

Sullivan said teachers can log onto the system and find information that displays how well their current skills match up against changing requirements and those of incoming teachers.

“If you know a teacher is lacking in a certain area, you can provide and plan for much better professional development programs,” Sullivan said.

Arizona uses a similar web portal from iAssessment to measure its teachers’ technology proficiency. But what separates California’s project is that it expands on this idea to include tools for data collection and analysis as well.

Cookson believes the program also is an effective way to help report data on school improvement. For instance, he said, educators could use the system to help determine how well grant monies were distributed and used throughout the state.

What’s more, GPS recognizes that teachers are not statisticians. In fact, Cookson said, many educators are intimidated by the sheer volume of data it takes to map out certain levels of assessment and achievement—information now required under the new federal legislation.

Sullivan agreed: “With NCLB, we really need to be able to read the data.”

While there are a number of computerized options available to help school leaders disaggregate and qualify certain data, the GPS system contains a unique profiling function, which automatically identifies and calls up information that is relevant to the specific needs of a given user—providing a clear advantage that allows educators to cut through superfluous data, Cookson said.

For example, if an eighth-grade science teacher was logged onto the system, GPS would recognize automatically who that teacher was and call up all data and information relevant to science instruction—whereas if a principal or administrator logged on, the data supplied would be tailored to meet his or her own needs. Principals could access the online training profiles of teachers or review spending and budget statistics, and first-year teachers likely would encounter information about extended certification classes and professional development courses.

According to Cookson, the GPS system requires all users to log on under a secure password and user name. Once an educator is logged on, the system processes exactly who the educator is and then returns all data relevant to the subject he or she teaches or the area of administration for which he or she is responsible.

“The role that you have in the system affects exactly how we are going to package the information to you,” Cookson said. “Educators and administrators get only the information that is relevant to them.”

Further, GPS does not require that schools perform a complete overhaul of their data collection, storage, and assessment procedures before implementing the system. Instead, GPS simply incorporates what the school, district, or state already has available and makes it accessible through shared channels, or data silos.

“We can tie into these other data points,” Cookson said. “We don’t want people to think they have to replace existing systems. It helps them to leverage what they already have in place.”

By using existing systems, Cookson claims his company’s program automatically saves schools in costly overhead and other expenses related to mining data for proper online distribution.

The program also does not waste time and money on long, drawn-out implementation processes. Cookson said clients should expect to have a fully functional beta site up and running in less than a week—with a live site, featuring customized resources, expected in a month’s time.

“Our system can be scaled from hundreds of users to hundreds of thousands of users,” Cookson said.

The price, of course, directly depends of the size and scope of the services to be offered, he said.

Although California is the only state currently using iAssessment’s GPS system to package and deliver its educational data, Cookson said the program can be operated on a district-wide or statewide basis and that at least two other states have expressed an interest in obtaining the service.

GPS “has given educators access to data in ways we’ve never had before,” said Suillivan. “We’ve done a nice job of putting data into the system, and we do have information coming out [so that educators] can use it.”

Links:

School Technology Buyer’s Guide
http://www.eschoolnews.org/buyersguide

  • Company Search on “iAssessment”

    California Department of Education
    http://www.cde.ca.gov

    No Child Left Behind
    http://www.nochildleftbehind.gov

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    WorldCom scandal could sink support for school tech programs

    In the wake of the accounting scandal that threatens to push telecommunications giant WorldCom Inc. into bankruptcy, educators are bracing for a ripple effect that is sure to be felt by their schools.

    Besides shaking the faith of school customers in WorldCom, the nation’s No. 2 long-distance provider, as well as investors’ faith in corporate America at large, the scandal also threatens to derail WorldCom’s considerable support for school technology programsincluding an initiative that reportedly trains some 10,000 teachers per month how to use the internet in their classrooms.

    The company operates a free, standards-based web site called MarcoPolo, which it created in conjunction with leading content experts such as National Geographic and the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge project. MarcoPolo’s online resources now include panel-reviewed links to top internet sites in many disciplines, professionally developed lesson plans, classroom activities, materials to help with daily classroom planning, and powerful search engines.

    WorldCom also offers free professional development to introduce educators at all grade levels to MarcoPolo and how it can be integrated into the curriculum. The training sessions are led by internet education specialists, and all participants receive copies of a teacher training kit.

    The content on the MarcoPolo web site doubles every year, and the site enjoys more than one million user sessions a month, said Caleb Schutz, a WorldCom vice president and president of the company’s foundation. All 50 states have signed up to use the site’s content, Schutz added.

    But if WorldCom files for bankruptcy as many analysts predict, the fate of these and other education initiatives is unclear.

    Schutz told eSchool News it was business as usual for the WorldCom Foundation right now, but he acknowledged that “it’s hard to predict” what will happen as a result of the scandal.

    “This is an extremely important, compelling program for the country,” he said. “It would be a huge loss to pull the plug on all this content.”

    Educators familiar with the program agreed.

    “MarcoPolo is an incredible program,” said Bob Moore, director of information technology services for the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kansas. “It really is standards-based, and you’d hate to lose something like that. If WorldCom is unable to sustain programs like MarcoPolo, one would hope that some other company or foundation would be willing to help it continue.”

    From a broader perspective, Moore added, “It would be terrible to lose the WorldCom Foundation. It has been such a tremendous supporter of quality, innovative educational programs.”

    WorldCom slid toward bankruptcy June 26 after disclosing what is alleged to be the biggest case of crooked accounting in U.S. history. The news sent telecommunications stocks and other shares plunging on Wall Street.

    President Bush said he was “deeply concerned” about some of the accounting practices in corporate America and called “outrageous” the disclosure that WorldCom had hidden $3.8 billion in expenses.

    “We will fully investigate and hold people accountable for misleading not only shareholders but also employees as well,” Bush said at an economic summit in Alberta, Canada.

    Bush said the Securities Exchange Commission would investigate, and the Justice Department could step in. The SEC had already been looking into lending and accounting practices at WorldCom, which owns the MCI telephone company.

    Analysts said the former Wall Street darling could declare bankruptcy within the week as lenders call in millions in loans. WorldCom said it would start laying off 17,000 peopleabout 20 percent of its global work forceon June 28.

    “If loans are called, in order to avoid an immediate shutdown, leaving lots of customers in the lurch, they’d have to file for bankruptcy,” said Alec Ostrow, a partner in the bankruptcy law firm of Salomon, Green & Ostrow in New York.

    The Dow Jones average fell as much as 200 points and slipped below 9,000 for the first time since Octobor before recovering to post only a slim loss. The Nasdaq traded below its post-Sept. 11 closing low but also rebounded to record a small gain.

    Trading was halted in the two stocks representing WorldCom’s business. WorldCom Group, which represent the company’s data and commercial telecommunications services, last traded at 83 cents, down from a 52-week high of $16.06. MCI Group stock, which tracks its consumer long-distance business, last traded at $1.68, down from a high of $17.33 in the last year.

    In a statement issued June 25, WorldCom said its board of directors had found $3.8 billion was wrongly listed on its books as capital expenses in 2001 and 2002. That means WorldCom may have actually lost millions of dollars when it reported profits.

    John Sidgmore, who was appointed WorldCom’s chief executive on April 29, said the board was “shocked” by what it found. The company said it had fired Scott Sullivan, its chief financial officer.

    Arthur Andersen, which was WorldCom’s accountant during the period in question, said its work was in compliance with SEC standards, and it suggested Sullivan was to blame.

    “Important information about line costs was withheld from Andersen auditors by the chief financial officer of WorldCom,” Andersen said in a statement.

    Andersen is already considered doomed. The accounting firm was convicted earlier this month of obstruction in the Enron debacle and has lost scores of clients.

    WorldCom’s sudden fall comes at a time when the nation is dealing with a rash of corporate scandals, from Enron to Tyco International, Global Crossing, and Adelphia Communications, which filed for bankruptcy June 25.

    The SEC said in a statement that WorldCom’s disclosures merely confirm the existence of “accounting improprieties of unprecedented magnitude.”

    WorldCom, second only to AT&T in the long-distance market, started as a small long-distance company but grew into a giant through acquisitions over the past 15 years. Two years ago, that growth stopped when regulators blocked WorldCom’s proposed $129 billion merger with Sprint Corp.

    In April, chief executive Bernard Ebbers, the man who built WorldCom, resigned under pressure amid mounting debt at WorldCom and questions about $408 million in loans the company gave him.

    Rick Black, analyst for Blaylock & Partners in New York, said the latest disclosures raise further suspicions about Ebbers.

    “The people who were running the company prior to this should know what’s going on,” he said. “If the CFO knows, the next question people are going to ask is what did Bernie Ebbers know, and of course they’re going to ask what did the board know.”

    Rick Bauer, chief information officer for the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., was blunt in his criticism of Ebbers.

    “It is indeed sad to see companies like … MCI tarred with the same deceitful brush that has characterized Bernie Ebbers’ reign at WorldCom,” Bauer said. “To me, MCI was all about the internet, connectivity, and discovering the power of technology and learning. MCI [executives] paved the way for internet access for teachers and schools around the country. They ran a good company, sold good products, and had a soft spot for schools and teachers. I know MCI leaders like Todd Brekhus, a former teacher and technology coordinator, invested years of his life into creating and training thousands of teachers using MarcoPolo, and I fear that the auctioneer’s gavel may spell the death of this wonderful resource.”

    In a report, J.P. Morgan analyst Marc Grossman offered some possibilities if WorldCom is forced to file for bankruptcy. In the short term, Grossman predicts WorldCom’s business and education customers will turn to “secure alternatives” such as AT&T and Sprint.

    Grossman said WorldCom may make an attractive acquisition candidate for a Baby Bell looking to offer long-distance service to its customers. If such a combination occurred, it would pose a threat to AT&T. But a combination like that would not happen overnight, he said.

    Links:

    WorldCom Inc.
    http://www.worldcom.com

    MarcoPolo
    http://marcopolo.worldcom.com

    Securities Exchange Commission
    http://www.sec.gov

    AT&T
    http://www.att.com

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    Ergonomics program teaches kids to use computers safely

    As children start spending more time on computers, experts say they might be putting themselves at risk of repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which could show up as early as their teenage years.

    But an innovative ergonomics program at Elizabeth Blackwell Elementary School in Sammamish, Wash., is trying to prevent that by teaching students to take breaks during long computer sessions, use correct posture to reduce strain on the upper body, and exercise fatigued muscles.

    “Get TechFit!” was designed by Diane Tien, the school’s instructional technology assistant, with help from some of the country’s leading children ergonomists. School officials say it’s one of the only such programs in the nation aimed at children.

    Ergonomics programs are important in the workplace because repetitive stress injuries cost companies money and time. But experts say that without increased education for children, the wave of computer-related injuries that hit adults in the mid-1990s may occur next in children.

    “I think all the problems that you’ve seen in adults, you can see mirrored in children,” said Dan Eisman, co-founder of HealthyComputing.com, an ergonomics resource web site. “Now they’re starting to work on computers at 5, and by the time they are 9 and 10, they start having problems.”

    These problems might include back, neck, and arm pain; wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome; and vision problems that lead to blurriness, headaches, and possibly an earlier onset of nearsightedness, said Eisman.

    “We know kids are experiencing problems,” said Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University and one of the first children ergonomists.

    Although there is little ergonomics research on children, current research on adults gives some insight into why children might be at risk.

    Peter Johnson, a professor at the University of Washington, has studied why women are injured at the workplace more often than men. Johnson found that computers are better designed for men, who have broader shoulders and thicker wrists. Women must extend their wrists and arms unnaturally to type and move the mouse.

    “If you’re a small-wristed child, you will be in greater extension,” Johnson said, increasing the risk of injury.

    Children often have to use equipment designed for adults or that must accommodate many different-sized children.

    “The problem is [schools] buy everything in bulk,” Eisman said. “That doesn’t really allow for a good variety.”

    And because parents and schools often cannot afford the smaller desks, miniature keyboards, and adjustable chairs that increase ergonomic safety, they tend to ignore the problem altogether.

    But being sensitive to “ergonomics doesn’t have to be expensive,” Hedge said.

    Small, inexpensive changes, such as using a pillow as support for the lower back or a crate as a footrest, can make a big difference in a child’s health, Hedge said.

    The goal of “Get TechFit!,” which is taught for one week out of the school year, is to teach children how to change their environments to fit them, regardless of where they are or what is around them, Tien said.

    “It isn’t so much that [the students] have to learn what the definition of ergonomics is,” Tien said while describing the program’s philosophy. “They have to understand their own physical needs first.”

    In gym class, students learn exercises to ease tension and relieve weary muscles. To learn correct posture, the students use sand-filled balls placed on their heads to simulate the pressure their heads put on their backs.

    “When you sit like this,” said second-grader Victoria Roadifer as she slouched down in her seat, “it’s hard to hold your head and it kind of hurts your back. It’s easier to hold it on your head when you sit up straight.”

    Fifth-graders use math skills to find the correct angles for arms, wrists, and legs when using computers. They use these angles to create ergonomically safe workstations for second-graders.

    The program also increases parental awareness, which often leads to safer computer use at home.

    Fifth-grader Alysha Greig even taught her mother a lesson when she saw her mom using a laptop on her bed with “one leg on the bed and one leg off,” she said. She reminded her mother to sit with both feet on the floor and use correct posture.

    “I’m telling her all this stuff about ergonomics,” she said proudly.

    Links:

    Elizabeth Blackwell Elementary School
    http://wwwbla.lkwash.wednet.edu/Elizabet.htm

    HealthyComputing.com Inc.
    http://www.healthycomputing.com

    Cornell University Ergonomics Web Site
    http://ergo.human.cornell.edu

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    This program, available through the U.S. Department of Education, aims to help high-need school districts develop, enhance, or expand innovative programs to recruit, train, and/or mentor principals and assistant principals. There is $10 million designated for this program. An estimated 22 grants ranging between $150,000 and $750,000 will be awarded.

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    Macromedia’s suite of web-design tools could save schools a bundle

    Macromedia Inc. is offering a suite of software tools for building everything from web sites to multimedia applications at an attractive price for schools.

    Under the company’s new site-licensing solution for education, schools with more than 500 students can purchase the Macromedia Studio MX suite for only $3,000, while schools with fewer than 500 students pay just $2,000.

    The Studio MX package includes the latest versions of Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, FreeHand, and ColdFusion programs. The new site-licensing solution for education also includes sample curriculum and lesson plans to help teachers start teaching web design courses or integrate web projects into standard academic subjects. In addition, Macromedia offers an online course on its web site to help train teachers in the use of these tools.

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    New web-based early learning program teaches math and reading skills

    K-2 Learning MileStones, from Achievement Technologies, is a web-based early learning program that helps instructors teach primary phonics and math while reinforcing word recognition skills.

    Teachers can use the program to assess, teach, and review pre-reading and basic math concepts while helping first and second graders build critical thinking skills. Teachers can even create individual instruction plans for students by having each child take a 15-question pre-test from a bank of more than 500 test questions aligned to state objectives.

    The software requires minimal reading or keyboarding skills from students but challenges kindergartners and serves as an intervention for struggling students, the company said. It supports special education classes and guides ESL learners with Spanish audio instructions. Audio feedback with an animated character provides students with helpful hints throughout the program.

    K-2 Learning Milestones comes with a comprehensive Teacher’s Guide aligned to each state’s standards for language and math. The guide contains printable worksheets for take-home activities, and the software’s printable reports allow teachers to remain accountable with administrators and parents. The program costs $2,495 for a CD-ROM and one-year internet subscription; each additional year is $995 for unlimited use in a single building.

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    Check out this automated check-out system from Sagebrush

    Students and teachers now can check out library books and other resources by themselves with UCheck, a self-checkout program from Sagebrush Corp. of Minneapolis, Minn. The system aims to save library media specialists valuable time, freeing them to help students and staff members find the information they need.

    “Checking out materials to patrons can be a time-consuming task, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Gail Mazure, UCheck product manager. “Using UCheck, librarians can successfully and conveniently let patrons check out their own materials from the library, so the library staff has more time for other library tasks.”

    UCheck comes with a password-protected administration component that allows library staff to choose from a variety of methods for how materials will be checked out. Staff members can place restrictions for those who are not allowed to check out their own materials, such as young children. If a restricted person attempts to check out materials, the system will display a message indicating that the checkout process cannot proceed. The program also enables staff members to create, preview, and print status reports.

    UCheck integrates seamlessly with Sagebrush’s Athena and Winnebago Spectrum library automation programs, according to the company.

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    VTech introduces handheld solutions for students

    The VTech XL Series of handheld and notebook-styled electronic devices provides schools with a cost-effective way to introduce young kids to computers while reinforcing reading, writing, and math skills. Each of the four devices in VTech’s XL Series product line is portable and small enough to be stowed in a locker or backpack.

    The devices feature a variety of education-specific software applications, including a calculator, unit converter, class scheduler, artwork studio, music creator, and more. They also include access to trusted educational resources such as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannica.

    The ClassMaster Notebook ($149.99), geared toward nine to 12-year-olds, features educational games that let students practice grammar, reading, comprehension, basic geometry, and pre-algebra. The device also lets students do word processing and internet research. Students can upload their projects to a PC to save, eMail, or print. The notebook includes a free, one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

    The SkillStarter Handheld ($39.99) has a touch-screen interface that lets youngsters play games to practice reading and math skills. The SkillStarter Notebook ($59.99) includes a full LCD screen, keyboard, and mouse. In addition to playing educational games, kids can use it to make and record their own music and learn to type.

    The MindBooster Notebook ($79.99), for kids ages seven to nine, is designed to promote independent learning and empower kids to apply what they already have learned in school to solve language, math, and logic activities, VTech said.

    XL Series devices connect to a standard computer using VTech’s optional vPort Accesory ($19.99).

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    Apple expands into server market with Xserve

    Apple Computer Inc. on May 14 introduced its first-ever rack-mountable server product, called Xserve. Aimed at environments where Macs are plentiful—such as schools—the device includes software that reportedly can check on the status of a client computer’s hard drive to predict when a failure might occur.

    Designed to appeal to technology staff who want a compact, easy-to-use server for file serving, printing, video streaming, database applications, computational clustering, and web and eMail serving, Xserve is based on the UNIX operating system. The idea for an Apple server grew after the Cupertino-based company last year introduced its newest operating system, Mac OS X, which also is based on UNIX.

    Xserve features remote management tools to make set-up and maintenance easier, Apple said. System administrators can receive notification of a client computer’s failure via eMail, pager, cell phone, or handheld computer.

    Pricing starts at $2,999 for a 1-gigahertz G4 processor model with 256 megabytes of memory. A dual-processor model with 512 MB of memory costs $3,999.

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    eSN Analysis: Costs, complications slow SIF’s arrival in schools

    Educators agree that sharing student data among multiple software programs without any retyping is an efficient, must-have capability for schools—especially in light of new data-sharing requirements imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act. But a highly touted solution in the works now for nearly four years has yet to be deployed outside of a handful of enterprising school districts.

    The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) is an open-standard specification that lets different K-12 software programs—such as student information systems and library automation software—connect through a central server and share information in a common computer language. But a number of factors have hindered the more widespread adoption of the standard, school technology directors told eSchool News, including its difficulty to implement and the lack of a clear certification process for SIF-compliant products.

    Driven by K-12 education technology providers, SIF—a division the Software and Information Industry Association—aims to save educators from repeatedly entering and updating student information. The project’s goal is to enable diverse software applications to interact and share data efficiently, reliably, and securely in real time, regardless of their respective platform.

    The initiative has officially been under development since 1999. In August 2000, eSchool News reported that SIF Implementation Specification v1.0 had been released to software developers. In February 2002, a remote demonstration of SIF-compliant products proved the specification works.

    Now, 10 new school districts will become showcase sites, bringing the total number of districts to use SIF to 14, according to an announcement made June 17 at the National Educational Computing Conference in San Antonio. But educators are eager to see the solution implemented across the board.

    “All of us in the school IT [information technology] community were cautiously hopeful that true interoperability might be realized, but from an outsider’s perspective, it appears that there are still no deliverables,” said Bob Moore, director of IT services for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas.

    “It doesn’t seem to be rolling out, and I think that is becoming very frustrating for people,” said Charlie Garten, executive technology director for the Poway Unified School District in California. “It’s a wonderful concept. We really do want it, and we need it. But how do they get it out to us now?”

    SIF organizers have advised school districts to ask for SIF-enabled products from their vendors. Many school officials told eSchool News they already use these products, but without interoperability. The reasons for this vary.

    Terry Allan, information technology manager for the Vancouver, Wash., Public Schools, said his district already has begun using SIF-enabled products, such as Microsoft’s Class Server and software from HOSTS Learning. But Allan says a lack of wider acceptance of SIF is holding full interoperability back.

    “What will it take? Someone to grab the flag, raise it high, and say, ‘Follow me,'” Allan said.

    Tia Washington-Davis, IT coordinator for Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools, blames a lack of marketing.

    “School districts throughout the country see the need for viable, interoperable products on the market so we can make intelligent and informed decisions about purchasing,” Washington-Davis said. “Many technology directors stated that they have not seen these types of products available in the marketplace targeting the education sector.”

    Garten agrees: “I don’t feel like anyone is really marketing [SIF].”

    Terri Fallon, director of marketing for VersaTrans, which makes a school bus planning and routing system that is SIF-enabled, thinks SIF might have been marketed too well.

    “Probably our marketing was ahead of the game and got everyone excited. That probably hurt us, because everyone thinks it should be here by now,” Fallon said.

    SIF director Tim Magner maintains the progress SIF has had to date is a tremendous success. “Think about how difficult it is to get consensus from your friends about going out to dinner, then think about getting consensus from 120 different companies,” he said.

    The technology is commercially available, and there are an increasing number of vendors that support SIF, Magner said: “What schools have to do is decide that they want to use SIF to manage their data and then contact their vendors and ask for SIF-enabled products.”

    But there’s more to it than that. A key reason SIF hasn’t caught on more widely is that it’s not simply an out-of-the-box solution.

    SIF is a custom solution, Magner said, and its implementation will look different for every school district. Schools must decide which combination of software applications they want to work together.

    “There’s not one model for how this works, because there are so many systems that have to come together and there are so many different ways that school districts work,” he said.

    The 14 showcase sites will demonstrate different ways SIF can work in a school district. School leaders can look to these sites to find examples that are similar to their own districts for guidance.

    School districts must designate a project director who will manage the implementation and decide what data will be shared, what applications will be included, and who will update the data. “You begin to see how it’s much more of a management solution than a technology solution,” Magner said.

    Another possible factor in the holdup of SIF is the lack of a clear process for certifying that a vendor’s products are SIF-compliant. Magner said his organization is working on creating a compliance program to give vendors a third-party “seal of approval” that their products work well with other SIF-compliant software.

    Such a process would give school purchasers “the confidence that [a vendor’s] products meet the specificifications,” he said.

    Yet another holdup is that SIF requires a large investment up front, which really requires community support and buy-in so that adequate funding and staff resources can be devoted to the project.

    “It requires that a school district be in a place where they want to implement it,” Magner said. “There is an up-front investment of resources, of time, and possibly infrastructure.”

    Garten said his district’s tight budget prevented it from becoming one of the showcase sites, because officials there didn’t have the funds to pay for someone set it up or to buy the necessary hardware and software. “Down the line it’ll give us money back, it’s that initial cost that has caused problems,” Garten said.

    SIF takes a long time to implement, too.

    “It took several months to get the showcase sites up and running,” Magner said. “It is important to recognize that SIF implementation is like any other large-scale implementation.”

    But SIF promises greater efficiency and will pay for itself over time, Magner said: “You make the investment up front, and over the life of the system it pays for itself. There are a lot of things that technology can automate. Once they are automated, we can free up those resources.”

    Jim Hirsch, assistant superintendent for technology at the Plano Independent School District in Texas, thinks it won’t be long before SIF begins to reach schools on a more widespread basis. But it will take strong leadership to make that happen, he said.

    “The concept is solid, the technology is solid, it’s just a matter of … when a key group of customers—schools—aligns with a key group of vendors to push SIF into the mainstream,” Hirsch said.

    Links:

    Schools Interoperability Framework
    http://www.sifinfo.org

    Blue Valley School District
    http://www.bluevalleyk12.org

    Poway Unified School District
    http://powayusd.sdcoe.k12.ca.us

    Vancouver Public Schools
    http://www.vansd.org

    Prince George’s County Public Schools
    http://www.pgcps.pg.k12.md.us

    Plano Independent School District
    http://pisd.edu

    Microsoft Corp.
    http://www.microsoft.com

    HOSTS Learning
    http://www.hosts.com

    VersaTrans Solutions Inc.
    http://www.versatrans.com

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