Education data (eddata), whether through the facilitation of measurement for personalization, the optimization of budget planning, or efforts to ensure equitable access to strong outcomes, has the potential to be a powerful tool for improving learning for more students. Unfortunately, many would say that it is currently not being used to its full potential, for a number of reasons–but there are a number of promising trends that provide a reason for hope.

The aspect of eddata that gets the most headlines today is privacy and security. This is an undercurrent throughout the field (as it should be), including the three trends highlighted below.

However, three other ideas that continue to gain momentum (but that see fewer spotlights) in the use of education data are interoperability, meta-analysis, and continuous improvement–these shifts can make data usage easier, more widely applicable, and more effective, respectively.

1. Interoperability

Of the three trends in this list, interoperability appears to have the most momentum behind it.

This shouldn’t be surprising, as it arguably has the greatest effect on actual data usage. Administrators often want to see student data from various tools compiled into one dashboard. Teachers want to avoid manually entering student data into several systems when getting started with a new tool and spend less time interpreting data in multiple forms. Students and parents want a clear picture of academic performance compiled in a readable format from various learning environments. However, too often, significant portions of this data live in different silos and in formats that are either inaccessible, or that cannot be easily analyzed alongside each other.

Project Unicorn is a noteworthy approach to solving this issue. So far, 3,200,000 students and 419 school systems (a number that continues to grow) are now operating under their pledge, which includes commitments to adopt and integrate data interoperability standards (including procuring educational tools that are ranked Level 2 or higher on the Project Unicorn interoperability rubric) and provide access to quality digital infrastructure.

2. Meta-Analysis of Usage for Optimization

A second trend gaining steam is the meta-analysis of the usage of edtech tools. One organization facilitating access to this practice is LearnPlatform. I recently spoke to Karl Rectanus, Co-Founder and CEO of LearnPlatform, who said that their mission is to “expand equitable access to edtech that works.”

LearnPlatform is an EdTech management and rapid cycle evaluation tool that organizes and streamlines the process of analyzing the impact of various tools and teaching practices. It enables administrators to automatically organize the data surrounding their edtech tools in one centralized place, rather than through homemade spreadsheets. It can also be used as a vendor procurement tool.

Their goal is to enable “IMPACT” (Integrated Metrics Producing Analytics on Classroom Technologies) analysis. LearnPlatform has signed the Project Unicorn pledge, and have even gone one step further–at this year’s IMS Global Learning Impact Leadership Institute, they launched IMPACT-ready designation, which any provider can earn by making 4 basic commitments around transparency and access:

  • Student data privacy
  • Commitment to data interoperability (signing the Project Unicorn vendor pledge)
  • Transparency on their own accessibility
  • Vowing to provide utilization data when requested in a useful form via either CSV, IMS, Ed-Fi, or LearnPlatform

They expect this to streamline acquisition by 4-8 weeks, reducing the back-and-forth between vendors and schools that can take months as new questions come up.

“Product companies have sold the sizzle, but we’re focused on improving outcomes and budgets,” says Rectanus. “We aim to, in January, give admins the data they need on what they should be keeping, changing, and how they should be adjusting instructional practices in their district.”

On a smaller scale, LearnPlatform also provides an “edtech review” feature that is free to educators. It is more research-based than your basic “out of 5 stars”-type system (according to Rectanus “80% of apps on the iTunes store have 4.2 stars.”), and integrates public data from schools across the U.S.

3. Continuous Improvement/Formative Practice

We’ve been learning a lot from the How I Know initiative, an effort to discover and share out best practices around formative assessment sponsored by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. At the heart of this is the idea of shifting from summative, end-of-quarter/semester/year feedback to more day-by-day, growth-oriented feedback and mindset changes.

Similarly, in the world of eddata, there is an ongoing effort to shift from a retrospective, accountability-based approach to data analysis, to a more formative focus.

This “day-to-day data,” and a number of districts’ efforts to make the most of it, was recently covered in detail by Benjamin Herold on Education Week. “Examples of what an improvement-based data infrastructure actually looks like in practice are few and far between,” he writes. We are optimistic that as interoperability and better-optimized edtech selection become a reality in more and more districts, this type of approach will be more and more common.

Closing Thoughts

Privacy and security will continue to be a priority in the management and use of eddata. This is an important foundation off of which to build trust and accelerate momentum in the market. Ultimately, when we are able to more safely assume that that side of the issue will be properly handled, it will be interesting and valuable to see discourse shift more toward the three trends discussed above.

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