November 2021 | Interoperable K-12 Edtech for Long-Term Success
Contributed by Marcy Daniel, Chief Product Officer, PowerSchool
How a Standards-First Approach Leads to Better Support for Student Outcomes
As K-12 schools and districts continue to increase their reliance on software to support operations and instruction, the importance of edtech interoperability with connected products that share data, workflows, and a user experience is vital to long-term success.
While prioritizing digital enablement and student outcomes, schools and districts may inadvertently find themselves supporting multiple software solutions lacking interoperability. These could include their student information system (SIS), back-end office support, talent and recruitment software, instructional tools and resources, and even family communication portals. As a Digital Promise study highlighted, 74 percent of districts use more than 26 different education technology products, and another 17 percent of districts use more than 100. The result of the rapid proliferation of software and technology can mean managing a host of systems that generally are not built to speak to each other efficiently—or at all.
Number of Edtech Products K-12 Districts Use
Source: "The State of Data Interoperability in Public Education," Digital Promise, 2017
In addition to causing potential funding and talent resource issues for school and district administrators, these non-communicative software platforms can disrupt instruction while decreasing overall productivity throughout an organization. Similar studies share that when teachers must maneuver between so many products, they have less time to teach. On average, teachers spend nearly half of their working time on non-teaching activities.
Interoperability Supports Whole Child Instruction
Without insight into each learner's K-12 journey and a strong data culture built around solutions that can speak to each other securely, educators may struggle to make informed instructional decisions. In other words, disparate software systems with data residing in silos mean we're missing the big picture when it comes to maximizing student support.
Alternatively, interoperable solutions can significantly impact seeing the full view of each child's learning path with access to readily available data. An interoperable solution that integrates with other edtech products can make user experiences more streamlined, convenient, and natural when maneuvering between programs. With a unified, cohesive workflow, it's easier to learn applications, navigate quickly, and improve productivity. It all adds up to more time for instruction and managing district or school needs and less time struggling with the technology itself.
A Standards-First Approach Supports Interoperability
When choosing—and working with—edtech vendors, school and district leaders should look for products and organizations that strive for a standards-first approach, both in terms of technology and instruction. This outlook helps support equitable technology across organizations without having to initiate costly integration projects on their own.
Knowing which solutions adhere to industry-leading open standards, such as those supported by IMS Global, can help K-12 schools and districts meet significant goals.
By bringing together a suite of integrated solutions from certified edtech companies, districts can:
- Accelerate digital transformation
- Make school operations more efficient
- Improve student performance
More than 120 organizations, including edtech vendors and K-12 districts working with IMS, have pledged to prioritize and advocate for open standards via the Standards First pledge. Part of this initiative, and critical to the future of modernization in the education landscape, is to ensure that systems connect seamlessly and securely. Edtech vendors can assure this by getting IMS certified. This means that not only are their products interoperable, but by being certified, they confirm their products have plug-and-play connectivity without requiring custom integrations—a significant resource and time saver for K-12 districts.
The organization also supports the Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange® (CASE®) standard. IMS provides a repository of CASE-published standards through the CASE Network for anyone to use, generally at no cost. Designing software that supports the CASE standard ultimately saves districts both time and cost.
Since most state and national learning standards are only published in human-readable formats, such as PDF, it's difficult for K-12 technology directors and curriculum leaders to integrate the learning standards in a useable and flexible way into their edtech tools. However, state and national issuers who choose to publish in the CASE format can make it easier for edtech vendors and their users to access and use the standards to better support student learning.
Security Should Be Top-of-Mind
One of the most important aspects of connecting edtech products is the security of students and data. Ensuring that data is transferring from one system to the next in a truly integrated and secure manner is critical. It requires that school and district technology directors select edtech vendors who adhere to strict standards, set and monitor role-based privileges, design data security plans thoughtfully, and update them regularly.
It's also crucial that state and district leaders collaborate with edtech software developers as a community to design products and platforms with student data protection needs at the forefront.
Vet Your Edtech Vendors
→ Download this infographic to assess your edtech vendors in 20 key areas that show what they are doing to keep your student, staff, and school data safe.
Interoperability Delivers Benefits for the Long Term
Ultimately, having interoperable systems that adhere to technical and instructional standards can save K-12 schools and districts time and resources. And at the same time, it increases opportunities for developing and delivering individualized instruction tailored to the whole child's needs. In the long term, interoperable systems are a must when supporting better education management.
Marcy Daniel is PowerSchool’s Chief Product Officer. She is responsible for developing a unified strategic vision of PowerSchool’s portfolio products, managing overall roadmap development, and delivering to clients on the roadmap.