As a former education administrator, I well remember having to log into fifteen different systems to try to see the full, comprehensive view of a school. How teachers were burdened by time-consuming data entry tasks to attempt to present relevant student metrics. The frustrations we all felt navigating outdated systems that wouldn’t talk to each other and thus provided very little insight despite eating up significant time for anyone using them. None of us got into education hoping to add to our accomplishments Skilled at Not Being Overcome by Legacy Data Ecosystems. We got into education to make a real difference in peoples’ lives.
When educators are, like I was, so deep in the trenches trying to make these systems function, they’re often unaware a viable—and surprisingly simple—solution exists. A solution that retains current information; integrates systems; eliminates multiple logins, redundant form submission, and data silos; and dramatically increases insights for greater education impact.
What is Ed-Fi?
Ed-Fi exists because changing lives really matters to educators. It’s a data standard that, once implemented, allows for disparate data systems to integrate and exchange data and insights. Ed-Fi is an open-source technology that has been developed by the education community for the education community.
Debbie Dailey from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) describes it as a magic decoder ring decoding data from multiple, seemingly unrelated sources and turning it in to educational insights. Think of Ed-Fi as a language: Once systems speak a language they all understand, great outcomes are possible. The language remains the same; how it’s integrated and the way you access it is infinitely customizable.
Data problems are not insurmountable, though they often appear to be when you’re standing on the other side of the solution. Ed-Fi has big benefits:
- Data from disparate sources can live in one place
- Dashboards provide easy-to-see, big-picture profiles of students, schools, districts, and states
- Real-time data insights help educators make accurate predictions and change their course of response before things move too far in an unwanted direction
- Data can become moveable building blocks—puzzle pieces, instead of simply puzzling
- Data transfer from school to state is much cleaner
- Data is accurate, reliable, and accessible
What’s the big deal about data?
Data can provide aspects of a larger view. Take attendance: A few years ago, a deep look at data brought to light that the connection between low-income students and poor attendance could be narrowed down to several factors including the ability to do laundry—particularly where school uniforms are required. Several organizations tackled making it easy and free to do laundry. The result was better attendance from as many as 85% of students, with 70% reporting grade improvements in math and English.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program authorized in 2020 is overseen in Indiana by Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) and its Division of Family Resources (DFR). The program fills the gap schools left when they closed for families that receive free or reduced-cost meals there. A secure, flexible, easy-to-use data entry and validation system got the program off the ground quickly, and helped DFR reach far more people who needed assistance when they most needed it. Ed-Fi integration this summer will shift the burden of handling the process from Indiana schools to the state Department of Education.
Data insights drive action
Looking ahead, one area where Indiana’s work with Ed-Fi integration is coming into play is discovering the impact of COVID-19 on education. Learning loss is a major concern. What are the trends we saw? How did virtual learning affect student focus? How can we get an accurate view of where students are today? What can we anticipate moving forward? How can we meet potential challenges before they turn into full-blown crises?
To answer these questions, educators at all levels, from the classroom to the state, must be empowered to use data starting with simplified, centralized data access. The more you know the more you can do. The need to update legacy systems lends itself to Ed-Fi implementation, and Ed-Fi makes data accessible.
Sara Hunter, Senior Consultant
Sara Hunter is a Senior Consultant at Resultant. Sara helps educators better serve students by enabling districts and state education teams implement data and technology tools to streamline administrative overhead.