Education data interoperability at work in Michigan

This is a blog series about interoperability: the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications.  In this series, we will highlight the ways that data interoperability is laying the foundation for innovation and helping enable great classroom instruction. We will also hear from partners who are implementing solutions to overcome the lack of data interoperability today in the K-12 sector. You can find the whole series here.

Describe your work with the Michigan Data Hub and what problem it’s designed to solve?

The Michigan Data Hub, which utilizes the Ed-Fi data standard and technologies, was designed to address the challenge of obtaining and sharing enough student data to help educators make better decisions for their students. In the past, the state has had up to 39 different student systems.  The Michigan Data Hub was designed to narrow that number down to fewer systems to make getting data easier.  So, we proposed creating a data hub where data would be exchanged and standardized from all the systems into one location.

Can you give us an example of the problem?

Right now, when a new student arrives in a district, that student is entered into the student information system.  To enter that student into the food service system so they can get lunch that day, a file is sent to another location to determine if the student is free or reduced lunch.  That data is then extracted into another file and transferred back to another place where it’s ultimately loaded into a student system.  A staff member is then notified by email that there is a new student who needs to be loaded into the food service system and manually types the student’s data into the system.

In that scenario, there is a real risk of a staff member mistyping information. There is also a risk of it not being entered in a timely or reliable manner, meaning the new student has trouble getting lunch.  There’s a lot of inaccuracy and problematic data exchange when it comes to anything that’s not automated.

What benefits have districts who are using the Data Hub realized?

We now have the ability to provision a system within just a few minutes rather than the days, weeks, and sometimes months, it typically takes to do it by hand with data file exchanges is tremendously valuable. It speeds up the time for a district to populate a new system with the basic information, such as student rosters, that is needed to make the new system available for users.

Recently, we had a district that needed an alert system and they wanted to put it in place very quickly. Now that the data hub is in place, it took no more than five minutes for one of our vendors to enter their system, pull the relevant data, and even train the district on how to send alerts.

We have also used the Ed-Fi dashboards to get data back to educators about their students. This is a benefit for teachers, particularly in districts that have historically had limited ability to make data easily accessible to teachers.

Interoperability allows for the reduction of duplicate efforts statewide for both vendors and districts.

Have you encountered barriers to implementing the Data Hub?

One barrier we’ve encountered is that it’s optional for our districts. They can choose to opt in to using the Data Hub. There’s no state mandate that says a district must adopt these standards. This means it is taking time to build enough demand from districts for vendors to integrate with the data hub.

Therefore, another barrier is the vendor adoption piece. To the degree that vendors don’t adopt this, it really harms our ability to reduce the duplication of effort and data quality errors experienced in exchanging data. The more districts that adopt, the faster vendors are likely to support the Data Hub and adopt the data standard it uses.

What do you see as the value proposition of interoperability?

Interoperability allows for the reduction of duplicate efforts statewide for both vendors and districts. There are different student systems, so even a simple integration to a food service system is done differently for every student information system. We’re looking to put in place an ecosystem that eliminates the duplication of effort and streamlines the whole flow of data.

I see the data hubs as means to an end. The means is the interoperability – getting everything to flow seamlessly and securely between systems. It takes time and it takes a lot of effort with vendors.  And the end is the actionable data. It’s being able to focus on our statewide knowledge to ultimately help kids and create equity.

Interoperability can really help with equity. Unfortunately, there are districts that are data “haves” and others that are data “have-nots”. We are striving to turn all districts, no matter their level of resourcing and capacity, into data “haves”.

Anything else you want to tell us about interoperability?

Interoperability allows for collaboration. We chose to use the Ed-Fi technologies as the basis for the Michigan Data Hub because we wanted to contribute to and benefit from collaborative solutions. To me, the Ed-Fi Alliance is all about collaboration.  It allows for collaboration between states, which is a huge win. Being able to use the early warning system that Pennsylvania developed, and other systems that Tennessee and Nebraska have developed, is very valuable.

This sense of collaboration has also been valuable for us within the state. We’re seeing collaboration not just between school districts, but also among state agencies and districts.

Don Dailey has worked at Kalamazoo RESA for over 25 years as programmer, technology director, and as executive director for a regional data consortium.  Those roles gave him an extensive background in school data systems and data systems integration.  In July 2013, Don was selected as project manager for the TRIG Data Integration Project and now oversees the Michigan Data Hub, which resulted from the initiative.

Other blogs in this series:

Education data privacy and interoperability go hand in hand

Data Interoperability in K-12: I promise this isn’t boring

Data Interoperability in K-12: Where is the magic?

Data interoperability in K-12: The end of the human API

Data interoperability in K-12: Why it matters

Education data interoperability: Supporting teachers in the classroom

Education data at work in K-12