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Simple and Secure Access to Student Performance Data

By Welles C. Hatch, CIO & Founder, Door94

Through a partnership with Microsoft and the EdFi Alliance, there is important work underway today to enable the right kind of access to K-12 student results. Organizations large and small are being provided with tools to realize the promise of impact analytics and student progress monitoring across the spectrum of student supports, unlocking data and staging it for analysis—the “behind the curtains” work that never seems to get much airtime.

Each partner brings to the table important contributions to emergent technologies that enable coordination among an increasingly resourceful and diverse network of service providers offering student support, in the classroom and extending the school.

  • EdFi technical standard for cross-platform interoperability of K-12 student data: Chartered with the purpose of popularizing a data standard for this domain, the EdFi team advocates for partnerships and provides deep technical know-how to states and school districts—and the growing cadre of organizations providing student supports outside the classroomEdFistandards workserves as the foundation for cooperation across school districts and their service partners and is being adopted by national youth development organizations and other student support service providers. 

  • Microsoft Azure tools for wrangling and providing access for analytics: Within Microsoft there is a powerful focus on supporting the growing influence of analytics on program effectiveness, recruiting, and student and parent engagement in K-12 education. It is driven by a clearly stated commitment to making program service providers—and schools—more effective at supporting students. On a recent project, team members from Microsoft Philanthropies, Microsoft Partner Network, Microsoft Education, Azure and PowerBI worked with my organization and others to make deploying EdFi simple and cost-effective—including a connector between PowerBI and select student information systems

"Enrollment becomes more responsive as we improve our ability to monitor progress toward program goals"

I began my work in this area when I was CIO of City Year, a national non-profit recruiting AmeriCorps members to tutor, mentor and coach at risk K-12 students. We shared with the thousands of organizations providing in-school and after-school programs the dual goal of evaluating impact and giving time back our teams in the field.Those goals also support the ability to secure funding for programs, as foundations and other grant sources are increasing their commitments to evidenced-based practices.

Field staff that tutor or counsel students are poorly served by the systems used by schools for running classrooms and curriculum, and so resort to whatever means are available. Spreadsheets, clipboards and flash drives are prevalent, used to share student records via unsecured and un-monitored channels. These can be teams coordinating an individualized education program, after school programs run by the Y, or organizations like Reading Partners that are reaching students with focused learning opportunities.I have spoken to the evaluation or technology teams of these organizations and many more that have been unable to find a cost-effective platform or transaction system with which to manage, distribute, and collect outcomes from the programs that they deliver.

This approach to enterprise program management (“EPM”) canprovide a framework for standardizing service delivery, making it possible to collect data on session outcomes in real time within a community-based organization or across a scaled-up service network.

I have watched these emerging tools open minds to what is possible. Student support servicesof every stripe have in common a desire to access student performance data in order to evaluate the impact of their programs‑grades, attendance, social-emotional learning, and assessments. With EdFi and Azure innovating to simplify secure access to student performance data held in school district systems, administrators, thought-leaders and team managers all start to imagine insights available in the moment to tutors, or weekly analysis of trends across a cohort. Enrollment becomes more responsive as progress is monitored between sessions. Program content can be tested and re-tested.

Standards and streamlined database implementations of the sort being developed by EdFi and Microsoft also opens the door to re-thinking analytics as well as the relationship between support services and school-based staff.

  • Azure implementations can be become cost-effective to set up and maintain, making enterprise-class data marts and dashboards available to small and medium sized providers.

  • EdFi-based data requests from practitioners can be standardized, reducing errors and streamlining process for school district teams.

  • Simplified quality assurance and data management recued barriers to collaboration for best practices.

  • Practitioners could build a consistent data “ask”, reduce school overhead and facilitating communities of practice for impact evaluation.

  • Accessibility of impact results facilitates the dialogue with funders and collaborators, encouraging organizations to prioritize technology investments.

  • Data sharing agreements can be repurposed, expanding the rules of the road to define a data relationship for exchange of data collected on program outcomes.

Partnerships like these demonstrate that value will be created at a faster pace and across a broader spectrum of communities as a result of reducing barriers to collaboration. It can start with a vision for ways to enable investment in interoperability, work that EdFi Alliance was founded to accomplish. In turn, technology stacks like Microsoft working to streamline an Azure implementation of EdFi ODS removes barriers, reduced organizational friction and accelerates access to data and analytics.

The result can and should be that we spend less time accessing, cleaning, norming and managing data, and more time using it for insights. Pairing a system for managing programs with a data management environment that delivers the semantic layer has proven to be a powerful accelerator for service delivery and makes possible both self-service and advanced analytics for this important sector of community service organizations.

Original Article Published in CIOREVIEW.

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