A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis, Ware said.

The “Closing the Gap” project includes 16 districts that are forming communities of practice around two themes:

  • “Bridging SIS and LMS in New Ways” will explore the use of formative assessment data to inform classroom instruction and standards-based content.
  • “Growing a Data-Rich Culture” will focus on creating a learning ecosystem that fosters continuous use of data to strengthen instruction.

Schools are taking their SIS and LMS solutions in new directions, said Anderson, and there now exists a blurring of the lines between the two types of software, because some SIS solutions have LMS capabilities and vice-versa. What’s more, the functionalities of the software are changing as education’s demands change.

“The distinctions that we’re making today [between the two types of solutions]—moving forward, we’ll see some of those distinctions go away,” she said.

Being able to access data on the go, and having the ability to understand what’s going on in classrooms at the minute level, while also understanding trends, is another change on the horizon, she said.

“Social media and mobility [will change our] ability to get input from students in a way we haven’t been able to in the past,” Anderson said.

Communication—and what is meant by the terms SIS and LMS—is improving, too.

“I think that there is increasingly better dialog between districts and state departments of education about what those specific data elements are, and what they mean, and the quality around the data,” Ware said. “At a national level, we know many states now have longitudinal data systems, and that they’re collecting information, but … they’re also hopefully providing that information back to districts [after validating it] for use at the district and classroom levels. What we’re hearing more now is that people have used [these] data as a flashlight to determine which students are doing well and which may need some more support.”