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K-12 Interoperability Groups Announce Collaboration on Ed. Data Sharing

Two leading organizations in the highly technical world of K-12 data-interoperability standards have agreed to coordinate their efforts, a move that proponents hope might spur a new era of seamless data-sharing in the long-fragmented ed-tech sector.

The Ed-Fi Alliance and the IMS Global Learning Consortium will focus initially on streamlining the exchange of class-roster and user-authentication data, using IMS Global's recently released OneRoster standard as a guide. 

"The goal is to take the cost and complexity out of what should be a simple exchange of the most basic data elements that power teaching and learning," said Troy Wheeler, the president of the non-profit Ed-Fi Alliance, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, in an interview.

"The two biggest players in the space are agreeing to collaborate," Wheeler said. "That sends a clear and positive signal that the [ed-tech] sector is beginning to mature."

Currently, many districts must manage custom data integrations with each of the dozens of companies providing digital content to their schools—an often expensive, messy process that frequently leads to lost instructional time and poor data security. The most popular solution to the problem is using a third-party middleman, most often Clever, which says it has been adopted by 50,000 schools and 250 vendors. 

Last year, however, IMS Global released OneRoster, an "open" technical standard that is free and accessible to all parties. A handful of large districts have adopted the new standard and are demanding that their vendors do likewise, as Education Week reported in-depth last month.

Wheeler said that the effort by Ed-Fi and IMS Global to agree on a common standard will "begin with the OneRoster specification" and go from there.

For schools, Wheeler said, a common rostering standard will hopefully mean "a lot [fewer] .CSV files floating around"—a reference to the current problem of districts having to manually create, update, and share with each vendor separate spreadsheets containing information on what students are enrolled in which classes.

For vendors, he said, "it means access to a broader market of solutions and ultimately lower costs to integrate."

No timetable for agreeing on a common standard has yet been established.

"We've agreed to sit down and try to get to a place where we're aligned," Wheeler said. "I can't say what [the final standard] is going to look like. But we think it's the right thing to do for the sector, so we're willing to sit down and roll up our sleeves and do the hard work."

The Ed-Fi Alliance, founded in 2011, offers for free to state education agencies, districts, schools and vendors a common data standard that it describes as a "blueprint for connecting data systems," as well as a collection of technology tools, including dashboard templates and an application program interface, or API, that allows software systems to communicate directly with each other.  About two-dozen states and a number of large districts, as well as more than 250 ed-tech vendors, currently use Ed-Fi technology, Wheeler said.

IMS Global, meanwhile, is rapidly emerging as a leader in the messy, often-contentious field of K-12 interoperability standards.  Until recently, the group focused primarily on higher education. In addition to OneRoster, the group has made big inroads in K-12 with its LTI and Common Cartridge standards, which facilitate the sharing of digital educational content between vendors and schools.

"The widespread adoption of Ed-Fi technology across states and districts in the U.S. indicates that the Ed-Fi Alliance is a great partner to work with to accelerate the adoption of open standards," said Rob Abel, Chief Executive Officer of IMS Global, in a statement.

Future collaboration between Ed-Fi and IMS Global could focus on common standards for sharing assessment results between vendors and schools, Wheeler said.


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