Data interoperability in K-12: A teacher’s perspective

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.

Listen to the Full Audio Interview with In-Depth Responses

Tell us what data interoperability means to you?

Data interoperability is the secure, controlled—and most important—seamless exchange of data between applications. The standardization of the language programs can use to talk to each other is going to benefit me as an instructor and the students. Another benefit of data interoperability is that parents, the key stakeholders in a child’s education, benefit from it. They need access to data as well, not just the students and the teachers.

Can you explain what issues or inefficiencies you face that could be solved by data interoperability in your school, and in your district?

The biggest issue I face is the lack of access to relevant information that gives a 360-degree view of student progress, student needs, and student history. For instance, there’s a lack of historical data on standardized tests students take every year.  If there are specific areas with opportunities for growth, I don’t have enough specific information about each child. I also need student attendance information to assess how much my students have grown over time.

We also lack access to student technology that’s integrated into the district’s programs. That limits the extent to which students understand and invest in their own learning. Among my fifth graders, technology is no longer just a part of their lives, it’s completely integrated. The more technology I can get into the hands of my students, the more they’re going to understand data, why it is relevant to them, and how data can help improve the instruction I provide.

In my district we have inconsistency among the applications we use for intervention and monitoring student progress. I have taught in this district for eight years. Every year, there’s a new intervention application or new student progress monitoring application introduced.  I’d like to see a longer term commitment to a specific platform that teachers and students can get used to. We’d all benefit from consistency.

What’s the benefit of data interoperability for students?

It allows students to invest in the learning process. Data needs to be shared in a thoughtful, responsible way with the students. I believe they will understand their own challenges better if they have access to that data. They’ll understand where and how they can improve. For example, they could see how 15 absences during a nine-week grading period effected their outcomes on assessments and their mastery of content standards. They need to understand that cause and effect relationship.  Right now, my students do not have access to the data they need.

Parents will also invest more if they have access to the data needed to accurately monitor their student’s progress.  My students’ parents can’t access grades online, and that’s unacceptable.

It allows students to invest in the learning process. Data needs to be shared in a thoughtful, responsible way with the students. I believe they will understand their own challenges better if they have access to that data.

To what degree do teachers want all their students’ data in one place? Have you heard from other teachers who share your need for data?

Certainly. There are many types of teachers. We’re all different. We all have different philosophies and approaches in the way we instruct our students. Many teachers don’t even want to deal with data. Some want to continue with traditional practices such as teacher-led instruction, a lecture model of teaching. If that’s their firmly held belief, data interoperability is never going to be important to them.

So, teachers who understand the value of data interoperability need to be advocates. I have to show other teachers what actionable data is doing for my students. One motivating factor is when people see how data makes my life easier.

We need the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and others advocating on a nationwide scale, but we also need teachers and parents who are advocating for data interoperability on a local level. If we get more advocates who can demonstrate the benefits, we would have far more people on board.

What is your message to district leaders and vendors who can help make data interoperability a reality nationwide?

Change is going to come from district leaders and data vendors. It’s not going to come from the individual classroom teacher who really believes in data interoperability and wants it for his students. We need consistency across the applications we use for intervention and standardized assessments, as well as consistency in the vendors who provide them. And with that, hopefully, will come a common set of standards by which these applications can communicate with each other in a language that benefits teachers, students, and parents.

The students in my school took a standardized test at the end of last school year and our technology infrastructure failed to provide teachers and parents meaningful data. Even now, parents still don’t know how their child scored on last year’s standardized tests. That’s obviously unacceptable. My message to my district: please give us some consistency.

Brett Emerson graduated from Harding University with his Master of Education (M.Ed.) in 2004, and has been teaching ever since. He worked as a reading teacher for Memphis City Schools for nearly 10 years before transitioning into his current position as a reading and science teacher at Shelby County Schools four years ago.

Other blogs in this series:

Education data interoperability at work in Michigan

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