Education administrators cope with so much data, it would be unfair to ask them to cope with even one byte more. Consider the information they handle every day. School districts in America today are complex, sophisticated businesses, not only managing multiple applications across multiple platforms, but also managing people and equipment in the real world, like bus fleets, library systems, and cafeterias.
Add it all up–including formative assessment systems, summative assessment systems, learning management systems, and special education systems–and you will find admins working with an average of 30 onsite and online platforms. That’s 30 systems to feed with data and update. The kicker is that those systems might not be on speaking terms with each other.
Interoperability is a multi-headed issue for any IT professional, but in the K-12 education world it is especially complex. These unique complexities can be distilled down to eight truths, and may explain why vendors who have been very successful in other IT verticals never seem to meet expectations in K-12.
Truth #1: The Solution Cannot Be Point-to-Point
With 30 applications to synchronize, choosing a point-to-point solution will land you in a hopeless tangle of data. Data from many active sources is profoundly difficult to keep current, especially when considering the different protocols used for each particular point-to-point integration. We’ve found that there needs to be a broker somewhere in the middle–one dashboard where you can see everything.
Truth #2: There Must Be Multiple Ways of Moving Data
Vendors are opening up their systems and allowing integration through RESTful APIs. Also consider the cooperation required to create the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s OneRoster specification–several vendors are part of that product steering committee. A successful broker/dashboard must be able to accommodate all of these integration methods. The broker must also be able to handle old standards, current standards, and emerging data standards. For example, OneRoster is looking like it will be the emerging roster standard. The broker needs to support it as well as the industry’s existing standards, such as SIF and CSV.
Truth #3: The System Must Merge Disparate Feeds
Data comes into educational systems from a variety of feeds, including CSVs and file sharing. Some of those legacy data inputs are just not going to go away. But that’s only part of the problem. The viable system broker must recognize that there no longer is a single, reliable data source. It must merge disparate data feeds, not just data coming from the SIS. Information might reside in an HR system, for example. Handling all these feeds develops a vital function, coveted by IT professionals and system admins everywhere: a comprehensive representation of the data truth of your district.
Truth #4: Your Data Solution Must Be Bidirectional
As classrooms go digital, rolling out more digital content and applications, the quantity of student performance data is increasing. Managing this data and securely sharing it back to a central system that can provide analytics capable of improving instructional approaches or aggregated results like report cards is one of the biggest headaches for educators today. Different systems don’t always talk to each other politely, and with some districts using as many as 30 applications, writing grades back to the SIS can get thorny.
(Next page: 4 more K-12 IT systems management truths)