Standards First

Standards First

Open Standards Are the Best Way to Integrate

Let’s Work Together to Ensure they are the First and Primary Choice


Standards First is an edtech community call-to-action to ensure that we achieve open standards integrations as the foundation that enables product choice, improved cost, enhanced data, and student privacy.

The IMS community is committed to seamless plug-and-play integration based on open standards. We know you are too.

Standards First begins with our pledge to make open standards the first and primary choice for integrations. The pledge is enforced by the collective power of the IMS community. The promise of open standards is then ensured by the ability to test interoperability. Through product certification and compatibility certification, we can work together to ensure consistent implementation of open standards across a broad spectrum of teaching and learning tools.

Pledge, Certification and Compatibility Check

Empowering school districts, higher education institutions, departments of education, and edtech suppliers to work together, advocate for, promote, and implement open standards.




Take the Standards First Pledge

Ensure Open Standards Are the Foundation—Now and in the Future

Standards First Pledge

While there may be different ways to get to product integration, only open standards ensure you’ll spend less time and money on integrations and more time accelerating your digital transformation—both now and in the future.

The IMS community works with all institutions, states, and edtech suppliers to sign the Standards First Pledge to ensure open standards are the first and primary interoperability option.


Agree to Use Open Standards icon

Agree to Use Open Standards

Work collaboratively to create seamless integration across the board.

Community Support for Integration Issues icon

Community Support for Integration Issues

Offer your time and support to resolve integration challenges in a timely manner.

Be an Advocate icon

Be an Advocate

Require and promote standards-based integrations as your first choice and primary option.

Ongoing Validation of Products icon

Ongoing Validation of Products

Ensure products have passed IMS interoperability certification and are verified through compatibility check.


Take the Standards First Pledge



Product CertificationPhoto of Phone with IMS Product Directory on Screen

The Most Cost-Efficient Way to Product Integration



Our testing program helps edtech suppliers to become certified with IMS standards. When it comes to your digital ecosystem, you want to spend less time on integrations and more time empowering better learning from better learning technology.

EdTech Suppliers

IMS certification guarantees interoperability across the widest range of integrations and thousands of certified products. Plus, your product will be listed in the IMS Certified Product Directory.

Institutions (of all kinds)

Making sure your products are IMS certified is the best way to ensure all the different teaching and learning tools work seamlessly together, which allows more choice and puts students and institutional needs first.




Compatibility Check

Align Requirements Across Products and Catch Implementation Errors


Compatibility Check identifies integration requirements between an institution and its certified products and displays the results in a user-friendly dashboard to show technical gaps and steps needed to ensure compatibility.


OneRoster Compatibility Check

OneRoster Check

Securely and reliably exchange roster information, course materials, and grades between systems.

Common Cartridge Compatibility Check

Common Cartridge Check

Visualize metadata within the cartridge manifest—including alignment to official state standards published in the CASE Network.

Trusted Apps Seal

TrustEd Apps Seal

Vet products and certify them for student privacy, data security, and other safety issues.



Standards First Resources and FAQs


Standards First is a substantial undertaking designed to help all market participants, suppliers, and school districts work together to achieve and maintain convergence of implementations in practice. There are many resources to help this effort.

Support and Training

  • There are many technical resources available to the public to address specific OneRoster consistency issues occurring in the marketplace.
  • A new certification for supplier members to onboard into the IMS Compatibility Check software to gain detailed insights into deviations from the standard and track compatibility and convergence of live implementations.
  • A series of ongoing technical roundtables for members covering Compatibility Check Certification and support resources.
  • Improved and expanded OneRoster certification testing to address common problems further.
  • A public pledge of support for open standards as the foundation of our edtech ecosystem and associated signatory seal for all suppliers and school districts wanting to help this cause (for IMS members and non-members)
  • A Training Program for K-12 district and statewide institutions for implementing Standards First that includes the following components:
    • What is Standards First?
    •  How do I participate in Compatibility Check (CCx)?
      • Watch the overview video of CCx. 
      • Complete admin training and earn certification in CCx.
      • Discuss certification and participation with the CCx program in the evolution of each specification. 
    •  What is the Standards First Pledge?
      • Review the Standards First Pledge, and as an IMS Contributing Member, sign the pledge by completing the online form.
      • Participate in the Standards First monthly roundtable to share strategies and experiences in implementing the pledge.
      • Support the use and implementation of the pledge in your institution through technical expectations, business practices, and contracts.



Why do we need the pledge? ++

The pledge provides a way for educational institutions and suppliers to endorse open standards along with their willingness to work together to ensure that open standards are successful in edtech. By “successful” we mean that open standards are the best way to achieve integration, substantially reduce the time/complexity of performing/managing integrations and keep the barriers to innovation in edtech low.

Is the pledge a legally binding contract?++

No. The pledge is simply a “serious commitment” by an organization to do its best to uphold the core values of collaboration and transparency on open standards. There is nothing legally binding in the pledge. It is the honor system. However, because it is a serious promise the person signing the pledge must be able to represent their organization’s intent.

How will taking the pledge make a difference in how the edtech ecosystem evolves? ++

A shared commitment builds trust that enables that deep and sustainable collaboration. Standards First provides the foundation of collaboration and transparency that makes all the difference. Your voice matters because it means your organization understands what is required to get open standards that make a difference for every student, and that you are willing to work collaboratively with other leaders on this mission!

Don’t we already have lots of open standards in edtech? Maybe even too many?++

Open standards that are effective and ubiquitous in edtech can provide rich benefits for all stakeholders. But achieving standards that actually save substantial time on integrations and keep the market open require deep and ongoing collaboration among school districts, universities and suppliers. It is easy to publish a standard. It is orders of magnitude more difficult to ensure that the community works closely to ensure standards are providing the benefits we need in edtech. It’s a running joke among many that “the nice thing about standards in edtech is there are so many to choose from.” Well, we have a lot of standards but not enough reliable interoperability in practice.

What benefits does my organization receive by signing the pledge? ++

In addition to being able to show your organization’s support for open standards via display of the Standards First logo, your organization will receive the support and backing of the many associations that are working towards ubiquitous adoption of open standards. This includes IMS’s growing network that is already over 600 member organizations strong. IMS will also support pledge signers directly with issues they report via the governance process.

Who can sign the pledge? ++

Any organization that agrees with the pledge can sign the pledge. You do not need to be an IMS Member. Individuals who sign the pledge must have the authorization to sign on behalf of their organization and understand the pledge governance process.

Is this pledge consistent with other pledges at work in the edtech ecosystem? ++

Yes. This pledge builds off of the pledges from the Unicorn Project on interoperability as well as the SIIA pledge on student data privacy. The Standards First pledge achieves the “gold standard” for interoperability that is based on open standards that can be verified on an ongoing basis by an extensive network of implementers and neutral processes and certification testing provided by IMS, the world’s largest edtech consortium. When it comes to Student Data Privacy, the Standards First pledge references the IMS App Vetting Rubric and TrustEd Apps Seal, which again is the gold standard for assessing data privacy.

Is the pledge only applicable to IMS standards or OneRoster? ++

No. The pledge is supportive of all open standards. Please endorse the pledge if you believe in the principles even if you don’t use IMS standards or OneRoster. The goal is success of open standards in edtech, not limited to IMS standards.

Why is convergence of standards important? ++

It is very natural and normal for product companies to use pieces and parts of software standards while adding their own additional integration features that a standard may not support. A “good” standard is designed with well-defined extension points to enable this. The more adoption that occurs of a standard the more likely there will be deviation. When there is a deviation it is important for the market stakeholders to work together to determine if that deviation should be used to improve the standard and then fold those improvements in. This is how the market continues to converge on better and better interoperability. The alternative is what we have often seen in edtech in the past. A market where a standard is sort of a “design template” that every supplier tweak, leading to some interoperability but not the plug and play interoperability that significantly increases agility, improves choice and lowers barriers across the ecosystem.

Why do institutions and suppliers need to work together on ensuring that standards converge? ++

When use of standards become primarily deviations from the published standard then the total cost of ownership of software goes way up, potentially to the point of prohibitive switching costs and limited choices across the ecosystem. Costs of working with partners stays high for suppliers, limiting what they can achieve. Overall, trust in the ability to use edtech effectively is diminished. This is why Standards First starts with a pledge that includes willingness of all to work cooperatively toward convergence, followed by a program that can ensure convergence over time. We build the future together – and build our trust in that future and each other as partners.

What is the definition of “Open Standards”? ++

There is no single accepted definition of the term open standards. IMS’s use of the term is consistent with a set of key principles endorsed by open standards advocates, including published specifications that are (a) freely available to all with no implementation restrictions, (b) licensed for free with no restrictions on software implementations, (c) created, endorsed, governed, owned and maintained by a substantial representation from across the community that is asked to abide by the standards, in our case the K-12 and HED edtech communities, (d) governed via transparent neutral processes that provide for equitable participation by members of the community, specifically not controlled by some limited set of market participants, (e) transparent with respect to any intellectual property claims that may hinder market adoption.

Are Open Standards the same as APIs? ++

No. Open standards are specifications that detail how two applications interact and exchange data. An API (Application Program Interface) is a software implementation provided by one product to enable other products to integrate with it. An API may or may not implement an open standard. If a product has an API that implements an IMS open standard it can be tested via IMS certification to verify that the API is consistent with an IMS standard.

What does it mean for a product to have an Open API? ++

The term “open API” typically means that a product provider publishes the details of its API so that others can implement to it. The term “open API” does not pertain to whether or not the API is implementing an open standard or developed in a manner consistent with open standards principles. Thus, an “open API” is still typically a custom/proprietary integration approach specific to the product provider. The way to determine if an API, published openly or otherwise, implements an open standard is to look for certification or other validation by an open standards organization.

My institution already has a long list of standards we ask for in RFPS, so we’re covered right? ++

Unfortunately, laundry lists of standards in RFPs can many times do more harm than good. We regularly see long lists of standards requirements in RFPs in which many of the standards are out of date and conflict with each other. This includes standards lists provided by IT consulting firms. Unfortunately, those firms are not typically expert on standards. IMS has worked with school districts to reduce lists of 20 or more standards to just a few. The best RFPs ask for a limited set of standards where each has a clear purpose and are designed to work together. Simply providing a long list of standards in software RFPs has the unintended consequence of making standards less valuable, because even though the requirements don’t make sense the supplier is forced to say they comply to win a contract. This perpetuates confusion about standards.

Can IMS guarantee that all signers of the pledge are faithful to all terms of the pledge? ++

No. But IMS does have the legal authority to revoke the pledge if the governance process reveals significant issues in their support of any aspects of the pledge. Remember that IMS is a non-profit collaboration across institutions, state education systems and suppliers who have voluntarily joined to improve the edtech ecosystem for all. IMS has in place the community support to help resolve issues in a positive way for all stakeholders.

What happens if organizations don’t abide by the pledge? ++

IMS has instituted a governance policy for signers of the pledge. This governance is backed fully by the strength of the IMS community and it’s fair and neutral governance process.

Why does the pledge require transparency from suppliers with respect to fees related to open standards? ++

Open standards are of great benefit to suppliers in edtech in terms of reducing the cost of the many integrations they are required to support. Standards have a cost of implementation to suppliers, even if they are distributed and licensed for free (as is the case with all IMS standards). But the reason why so many leading suppliers choose to implement open standards, in addition to the many benefits to their customers, is that the cost is returned to them 100-1000 fold in savings in dealing with their partners. Despite this clear ROI to suppliers, some suppliers actually make it more difficult or expensive to provide an open standards based integration to their customers. If that is the situation, then it is important for customers to understand this cost to decide whether they believe it is worth it. Now, it may be that the supplier has not implemented the open standard before and that the customer desires it in a timeframe that justifies an additional cost. The point is that customers need to be certain when they are getting open standards-based integrations and also be aware of the costs that might be added on to the purchase for open standards versus proprietary alternatives.

Why don’t other industries have a standards first pledge?++

Education and learning are unique in terms of the requirement for collaboration among the institutions, suppliers and government to ensure that the needs of all students are met. In most other industries standards are either (a) dominated by a few large suppliers with pervasive platforms that dictate standards, creating lock-in, or (b) used primarily as a basis for enabling custom integration, such as in a large custom software development contract across a state, district or university. In edtech (a) has been tried but failed, while (b) has become the predominant way that standards have been used in practice. Unfortunately (b) fails to deliver on the full promise of open standards providing the efficiency and diversity that is required to ensure all students benefit. It is clear after more than 20 years of experience in edtech standards that we need the commitment of Standards First. Standards First is the best way to grow the ecosystem to support all stakeholders by achieving plug and play integration via open standards, enabling educational institutions of all kinds to design and implement an agile, scalable, data-rich edtech ecosystem that supports their unique goals in supporting faculty and students.



Take the Standards First Pledge