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Ed-Fi Alliance to Train K-12 Educators on Data Management

The nonprofit has created online training courses to teach K-12 educators about data management and literacy, so they can implement industry data standards that will make student performance metrics more useful.

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The role of technology in K-12 public schools has continued to grow since last year’s COVID-19 school closures pushed them to embrace digital learning. As some teachers have been taking a new approach to instruction with digital platforms designed to enhance lessons and measure student performance, schools have started adopting new data management systems to help identify student achievement gaps that have grown during the pandemic.

Taking note of these trends, the education nonprofit Ed-Fi Alliance has launched its new Ed-Fi Academy, a professional development initiative to train K-12 educators and staff on the ins and outs of data management and data literacy. According to a news release, the program features “online, on-demand training courses designed to meet users where they are in their data standard implementation journey with detailed guidance, regardless of their level of data competency or experience.”

Silvia Brunet-Jones, technical program director for K-12 technology at Ed-Fi, said the curriculum will teach participants how to implement and make use of the Ed-Fi data standard, which reformats information through an operational data store and API system to make it more readable and interoperable with other systems.

“The Academy’s curriculum is purpose-built for K-12 professionals and educators at any level of technical expertise, covering the adoption and deployment of the Ed-Fi data standard and walking users through the complete process of a data standard adoption to arrive at a system of seamless integration,” Brunet-Jones said.

According to Brunet-Jones, the need for data interoperability remains a key concern for school systems across the U.S. in measuring their specific funding needs, student grades and attendance, among other metrics. She said schools can use this data to gauge student performance and attendance, which can inform new academic support programs. The data can also be used to determine what students need, such as devices and Internet, to facilitate digital learning.

Brunet-Jones said the goal of the academy is to enable schools to standardize their data systems so they can “speak the same language,” which will streamline an often cumbersome process of gathering and storing student data.

“The focus is on helping people understand those concepts, and then how to apply them. We’ve seen that schools want to provide [training for] this kind of competency, but there’s a lack of focus of how to train these folks,” she said, noting plans to introduce intermediate and expert-level subjects to Ed-Fi’s current intro-level courses next year for an in-depth focus on data system implementation.

Brunet-Jones said other industries and sectors already run on interoperable data to guide their work, in contrast to many U.S. public school systems.

“In K-12 today, that’s not the case. When kids go into the registrar’s office or the counselor starts putting in the courses they want to take, that could actually be in a completely different system. The system with attendance and courses might not integrate seamlessly. There might have to be downloading of [new] spreadsheets or uploading of data on different formats,” she said. “The same thing happens with assessment data. That data is isolated, so it takes a teacher to actually download and manipulate spreadsheets to get a good picture of where their students are at. That’s not their main competency, so that really uses a lot of their time and ability to address issues.”

Brunet-Jones said education officials from the federal to local level are increasingly looking to address data interoperability and related challenges.

Wisconsin announced plans this year to standardize its migrant student data system to determine eligibility for the Wisconsin Migrant Education Program starting next year, according to the state’s Department of Public Instruction website. Nebraska also announced similar plans this year to modernize and standardize assessment and attendance data, which will help it to match K-12 funding from the American Rescue Plan Act with specific school needs.

At the local level, schools like Intrinsic Schools in Chicago recently adopted the Ed-Fi framework and hired an “analytics engineer” — a new position created to manage and analyze school data used for “action plans” and improving student performance.

“State agencies are starting to think that their role is more around providing districts services rather than just forcing data reporting for accountability,” Brunet-Jones said. “They’re starting to change their thinking around what they should be doing [with data].”

As of this week, Brunet-Jones said 100 school staff and IT specialists have signed up to enroll in the Ed-Fi Academy, with around 25 having completed its intro-level courses.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.