While a recent survey shows that 93 percent of teachers use digital tools, 67 percent reported not being fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have access to on a regular basis. And only 33 percent of school districts reported that more than half of their teaching and learning tools have been linked with their student information system. Part of the problem is a lack of interoperability—the capacity of technological platforms to interact with one another and share data.
Although interoperability models give teachers streamlined access to student data, they also present a number of challenges to administrators hoping to share that data seamlessly.
Connecting streams of data
For Megan Cicconi, an administrator in Pittsburgh, connecting platforms is a priority: “Something we’ve been talking about for years is this idea that our systems can talk to each other, and they can do so effortlessly without additional cost to our district.” Some administrators, flooded with what Tim Cariss of the Chico Unified School District calls “one-off data requests,” have turned to custom integration design to channel the tsunami of student data into consolidated streams.
But the in-house coding work some administrators find necessary to support different data models comes with a greater risk for error, both on behalf of the administration and the vendors who have to interface with multiple applications.
Since interoperability models involve connecting devices across districts, they also come with increased exposure to potential security breaches. Working with vendors who take a standards-based approach to managing data is one way to address security concerns.
To that end, Project Unicorn, an interoperability initiative, seeks to empower vendors and districts to ensure that stringent ethical and privacy standards are met; they provide a rubric for administrators to evaluate the practices of potential vendors, including how they manage privacy concerns.
Record-keeping systems vary from school to school, so until every school buys into interoperability, the process of managing and updating student data can be time consuming. A number of districts are experimenting with SSOs, or “single sign-on systems,” which allow for a single user identity to maintain records across platforms. However, because vendors don’t have a unified set of standards yet, many SSO programs aren’t compatible with all vendor programs.