Unprecedented funding has flowed into districts over the last several years as part of pandemic support and recovery efforts. As a result of this increased investment in technology, schools are generating more valuable data than ever—but much of that data isn’t readily available and actionable because it’s siloed in systems that aren’t connected to each other.
Simultaneously, with NAEP scores showing declining progress across the United States, school districts are trying to understand the scope of educational inequities and narrow equity gaps. However, it’s challenging to understand the root cause of these issues and to determine how best to address them without whole child insights made possible through interoperability—the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications.
4 Key Considerations Around Data Interoperability for 2024
As school districts navigate a new year, building a foundational understanding of data equity and data interoperability is critical to establish holistic policies, practices, and systems that support learner variability and address the needs of historically and systematically excluded learners. By sharpening their lens on holistic data, districts can ensure that data becomes an authentic and integrated part of district culture and decision making all year long. Below are some key considerations to keep in mind:
- Good data governance—which the U.S. Department of Education defines as “clearly outlining policies, standard procedures, responsibilities, and controls surrounding data activities…to ensure that information is collected, maintained, used, and disseminated in a way that protects the individuals’ rights to privacy, confidentiality, and security, while producing timely and accurate statistical data”—is critical to maintaining a secure, accessible, and reliable data infrastructure and is foundational to designing and implementing data interoperability projects. However, Project Unicorn’s 2023 State of the Sector Report indicates that this remains a significant challenge for school districts. Most (65.38%) respondents still need to define data governance goals and objectives at the organizational level.
- Many educators are excited about the potential for AI to finally help us realize our goals of creating personalized learning journeys for students. But to fully personalize learning, we need to establish seamless, secure data flow between platforms so that educators can get a holistic view of students and effectively support students where they are.
- Interoperability is also critical to enable us to transform assessment. It enables educators to see learning patterns across platforms, revealing strengths, potential challenges, and engagement. According to Erin Mote, executive director and co-founder of InnovateEDU, “Data interoperability can give educators a superpower to unlock the full potential of every learner.”
- Interoperability and adherence to data standards can and should be a key consideration for procurement decisions. Many district leaders are unaware of the real long-term costs associated with a lack of interoperability. Project Unicorn has created an Interoperability Certification to help district leaders identify products that prioritize interoperability. CoSN’s case study–The Michigan Data Hub: A Strategic Alignment and ROI Study–offers insight into these hidden costs. The study’s authors found that “data management by [Michigan] districts requires both personnel effort and technology costs totaling over $160 million per year statewide. More than $61 million per year is spent on data quality, data completeness, and other general data management tasks, while $64 million per year is spent enabling key internal systems within districts to talk to each other.”
An Actionable Resource for Districts
Digital Promise’s newly revised Data Ready Playbook is designed to support districts with creating an effective interoperable data solution that allows them to identify and address opportunity gaps and outcomes while simultaneously earning micro-credentials through a series of free, self-paced learning modules.
As district teams advance through the Playbook, they will evaluate their current data culture, build their knowledge and understanding of data equity and interoperability, and take steps to apply an equity lens to data policies and procedures—ultimately establishing a practice of using data analysis and interpretation to gauge data access, equity, and inclusion and identify disproportionality within their district.
The Readiness Framework
The Data Ready Playbook is anchored in a Readiness Framework consisting of three readiness domains: Project Governance, Needs Assessment, and Implementation Plan—all of which are critical to successfully implementing data interoperability projects.
Data Governance is the first of three domains addressed in the Playbook. By completing activities in the modules focused on data governance, district teams can:
- Identify and onboard district team members (including data stewards who are responsible for a given area of data, from collection through use)
- Initiate cross-departmental discussions on data priorities, processes, and workflows
- Document the district’s data landscape and workflows
- Identify key data elements and expectations around their usage (e.g. data catalog)
- Assign data stewards to draft and manage data processes and workflows
- Define a governing strategy or protocol to support decision making around emerging case data needs, including security and access
- Adopt data processes and workflows that support the implementation of data interoperability projects.
Needs Assessment, the second domain, focuses on helping district staff identify key challenges related to data use, including siloed data. Activities in this domain guide district teams through the following:
- Conduct focus groups with diverse community members to explore classroom-, school building-, and district-level activities that rely on or refer to data
- Develop cross-departmental opportunities for input and feedback related to data interoperability needs
- Identify and analyze specific growth points related to the use of data in classroom, school, and district activities by multiple departments and stakeholder groups
- Evaluate growth points based on need, solubility, and overall impact and identify clear requirements and specifications for the development of an solution
- Design a solution concept that defines specifications and requirements to achieve interoperability success
- Validate the challenge and solution concept with academic and technology stakeholders
The third and final domain of the Data Ready Playbook is Project Planning, which includes analysis of the costs of interoperability. By completing modules in this domain, teams achieve the following:
- Identify various interoperability solutions and their purposes
- Define an implementation team based on various interoperable solutions
- Articulate project parameters (e.g., ideal timeline, budget, etc.) for a potential district implementation
- Validate the feasibility and viability of possible solutions.
- Narrow from a range of solutions to one to two options (if necessary) based on feedback and project perimeters
- Select a team to implement the identified solution
- Create a general project plan for implementation, including appropriate detail on project milestones, financial and personnel requirements, and expected benefits, to present to leadership for approvals
How Data Ready is Your District?
The best way to understand your district’s readiness for data interoperability is by completing the Readiness Diagnostic. This diagnostic will assess your district’s progress to date using the Readiness Framework and provide a customized learning plan to follow in the Data Ready Playbook. Are you ready to get started?
Visit Digital Promise’s new Data Ready Playbook to learn more about data interoperability, build your team’s skills, and modernize your technology infrastructure in service of your students, staff, and community.
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