Why launch a new data standard?

Why launch a new data standard in the education sector? Our belief in the power of data to help teachers drive results is rooted in our foundation’s DNA, and we’ve long worked with and been aware of other powerful educational data standards. But during years of work in the sector, one single, recurring theme kept cropping up:

For all the reams of data collected and processed about every classroom in America, for all the data standards that have already been developed to aggregate data and report on the education system, little valuable data was filtering down into the arena where it could make the most difference: The classroom.

As powerful as they are, existing educational data standards (meaning technical standards that define and move data around) were developed for a variety of other purposes. They weren’t built to give educators on-demand access to the detailed, actionable information they need to make quick, accurate diagnoses of their students’ strengths and weaknesses.

So, after evaluating what was already out there, we set out to craft a standard that started with teacher and student needs in mind… and that’s how we ended up with the Ed-Fi data model. We also set out, from the beginning, to make that standard available, at no cost, to others—including states, districts and vendors—who were seeking to solve a similar problem.

We believe Ed-Fi is a tool that can move the sector forward in the effective use of data to address critical student performance issues.

Fortunately, when we began designing the Ed-Fi solution, we had the benefit of the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) as a critical guide and authoritative source. This has been valuable in three key ways:

  1. First, of a potentially endless number of data elements, CEDS initially identified a core subset of 165 elements (CEDSv1) and five sample use cases. This common vocabulary had to be established before existing standards could be aligned to enable the reporting of high-quality, comparable data at all levels of the educational system.
  2. Second, CEDS continues to identify additional critical data elements (most recently as in CEDSv2, which is now open for comment) that will act as the gold standard for a data dictionary used sectorwide. In extending the subset of standardized information, CEDS has established a marketplace hub where innovative new solutions—like Ed-Fi—will evolve to benefit many different constituents.
  3. Third, where CEDS ends—with a data dictionary—Ed-Fi picks up, by adding additional elements plus an easy-to-implement data exchange framework, an application framework and sample reporting dashboards to help make data usable.

We have zero interest in supplanting other standards or organizations: The Ed-Fi comment period is happening in tandem with the comment period for CEDSv2 so we and others have the perfect opportunity to identify and prioritize elements for inclusion in the CEDS data dictionary and model, and in Ed-Fi, where it can be carried into implementations. We designed the first release of Ed-Fi to ensure that it provides a straightforward path to implementing CEDS K12 elements. And going forward, we’ll continue to participate in the CEDS technical working group to help ensure that initial CEDS use cases can be operationalized and scaled quickly at a low total cost to budget-constrained educational agencies and school districts.

Systemic improvements in the U.S. education sector have eluded all of us for too long. We believe Ed-Fi is a tool that can move the sector forward in the effective use of data to address critical student performance issues. State leaders from Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas are implementing the Ed-Fi standard and believe it provides a compelling solution to problems they’re seeking to address. We hope that more states will look for ways to leverage work that is already done and that allows them to extend their resources to make even more progress.

One of our mantras at the foundation is that no one should fight alone. So we’ll continue to champion the leadership of the National Center for Education Statistics and the work of Council of Chief State School Officers, State Higher Education Executive Officers, Data Quality Campaign and others in moving the data standard conversation forward. And we’ll continue to ensure that Ed-Fi is compatible with CEDS and available, at no cost, to states, districts and vendors.

As president of the Ed-Fi Alliance, Lori Fey manages the rapid growth and adoption of the Ed-Fi data standard for states, school districts and vendors across the US. Prior to leading Ed-Fi Alliance, Lori served as portfolio director for policy initiatives at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and was responsible for the foundation’s policy initiatives focused on institutionalizing performance management in the U.S. public education system.

Read more of Lori’s posts here.