IMPLEMENTING ED-FI FOR TEXAS CHARTER SCHOOLS
Integrating the multitude of software applications that schools use can be a major undertaking
Using Ed-Fi as a data standard can make it easier
The story of the Tower of Babel reminds us of what happens when people aren’t using the same language. Educational systems keep running into the same problem. They have lots of applications, and they all use different data standards and formats. Getting them to work with each other is painful or impossible. When the systems for student data, curriculum, and student assessment can’t talk to each other, there’s no good way to get a complete picture of the education students are receiving.
The charter schools in Texas are expected to provide innovative approaches to education. New ways of handling information will let them overcome the data fragmentation problem. This is why the Ed-Fi standards are so well suited to charter schools. YES Prep, a Houston-based charter system, has invested heavily in Ed-Fi, with excellent results.
What is Ed-Fi?
Ed-Fi consists of two parts. The first is a data standard which all compliant applications follow. This lets any application work with any other application. The second part is a body of software tools which follow the Ed-Fi data standard.
The data standard isn’t about specific bits and bytes. It allows for different implementations. It’s about a way of defining and exchanging data which is consistent across all applications when accessed through the API. The heart of Ed-Fi is the Operational Data Store (ODS) and the API which lets applications access it. The ODS stores data securely, so that any other software with the proper authorization can read or add to it.
For the teachers, the point of access is the Dashboard, which gives them real-time information on students and everything that relates to them. The user interface includes metrics for assessing student achievement.
How do schools use Ed-Fi?
A school can deploy Ed-Fi in several ways. It can set the software up in its own data center, deploy a cloud ODS, or use the Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS cloud platforms. Most schools will find one of the cloud options best, rather than managing everything internally. Cloud hosting reduces the need for up-front capital investment, making it easier to get the project into the budget.
The standard is primarily focused on students, letting teachers better measure their performance. It also has value for officials and central offices. The visualizations in the application suite let the people in charge see the big picture. They can see if educational performance is declining or improving. This lets them identify areas where changes are necessary.
Using the system requires requesting an Ed-Fi license, which costs nothing. Acceptance normally happens within 24 hours. Licensees automatically become members of the Ed-Fi community. They not only have access to the software and documentation but also to the issue tracker and community forum. They can join special interest groups and the Technical Advisory Group. Schools can even develop their own tools and submit them for approval by the alliance.
The Texas Education Agency is a community member of the Ed-Fi Alliance. The Texas Educational Data Standards (TEDS) are based on the Ed-Fi Core. The Education Data Warehouse (EDW) provides a standard editing and reporting system for TEDS.
The implementation options are flexible. Using a cloud version keeps the amount of IT work low and avoids downtime due to computer problems. A system consisting of multiple schools and administrative offices can give them all access to the same data, where that is appropriate. API profiles control who has access to what resources.
For new charter schools, Ed-Fi presents an opportunity to have well-integrated data from the start. Choosing Ed-Fi compliant applications will give them a solid basis for later expansion. They don’t have to adopt a full suite right away. As they grow, they can add more Ed-Fi tools and be confident all their data will work together.
A case study: YES Prep
YES Prep is a system of sixteen charter schools in the Houston area. It focuses on students from low-income communities in grades 6-12, helping to get them ready for college. 87% of its graduates enter college within a year.
The school system launched a project to integrate the data from its various information systems. It developed a Next Generation K-12 Data Architecture based on Ed-Fi. Its cloud-based Ed-Fi system includes an ODS, API, and data warehouse that comply with the standards. It uses this system to prepare and report data to the Texas Education Agency.
Only one sign-on is necessary to access all the applications. Previously, teachers needed a separate password for each system. Some probably took shortcuts like re-using the same password or writing them all down, creating a security risk. Others inevitably forgot passwords and had to request new ones.
Each system had its own interface and vocabulary. Becoming skilled on each one and figuring out how to combine data from them took time away from working with students. Teachers can now use a master student profile dashboard, giving them complete access through a “single pane of glass.”
Richard Charlesworth, Chief Information Officer for the school system, has estimated that the new software has saved each teacher 100 hours per semester. IT staff can now spend more time on core tasks and less on user management.
YES Prep recently presented a case study, “YES Prep’s Data Journey: From Needs Assessment to Next-Generation Reporting,” at the 2018 Ed-Fi Summit in Austin.
Maintaining educational excellence
Education has become very data-intensive. Having multiple data silos that don’t communicate with each other makes it hard to track the schools’ success and the students’ performance. The ability to bring information together lets schools identify their success stories as well as the areas where improvement is necessary. They can avoid the fate of the Tower of Babel. Whether it’s an individual student or the school as a whole, a complete picture of the available data allows better decisions.
Teachers never have enough time to do everything they would like to accomplish. With software based on Ed-Fi standards, they work more efficiently. They have more time to improve their teaching skills and work with students.