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SIF: The Perfect Storm Is Brewing

SIF (Schools Interoperability Framework) has been around for over a decade now. It is a technical specification that allows for data and information to be passed from one software system to another even if each database labels fields differently. As long as each one has its own “agent” or way of connecting to the framework, then the data flows. Thousands of districts allow for data to pass using SIF, as it saves man hours, permits access to data not easily accessed previously, increases student services, enables software systems to seamlessly integrate with one another allowing for interoperability and allows workers to work smarter and not harder. In Ramapo Central there is a horizontal alignment of 10 SIF Agents that allow for teachers or students to be up and running on the network within seconds... it used to take days. A student can do almost anything on the network within minutes of registration.

Dozens of states are also currently using SIF. Their use of SIF ranges from just getting a unique ID for students, all the way to fulfilling almost every data requirement that the state and feds ask. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. A perfect storm situation is brewing where SIF is really taking a step forward and could lead the way for years to come.


Race to the Top
With RttT funding and requirements taking center stage now and for years to come, many new data elements are being required for districts and states to provide to the federal government. This puts just another burden on systems as they try to catalog, input and then extract even more data out of their systems. However, if all states and the federal government were to embrace SIF the reporting would become almost seamless. Also districts would be able to get the data to their local government and to the feds in a timely manner. As soon as the data was put in the proper place, it could be automatically moved to whatever organization needed it. The districts would not need an expert that would have to devise queries and ways of collating data to get the data out, it would happen naturally and with little effort. The error checking could be done at a secondary level and corrections could be visible within seconds instead of weeks.
With the Race to the Top Assessment program, the consortiums have proposed innovate work around assessment systems. This work ranges from sharing of assessment items between states through item banks to developing innovative assessment items to the delivery, reporting and scoring of assessments to providing content and resources aligned to the assessments for use in instruction. The SIF Association is addressing these issues and conducting additional work on the Specification to ensure that it can enable these desires for the consortiums and states.

Common Core Standards
As of writing of this article 46 out of the 50 states have signed on to adopt Common Core Standards and many of them will also start to use a national assessment around 2013. With the Common Core and common state assessment in place it opens up many possibilities. We live in a world where mobility is a fact of life and students do move with their parents to many different locations. Right now if we receive a student from another state, we must re-test and try to ascertain where their strengths and weaknesses lie. By relying on SIF to move the data to a common database, the Federal Government could create a clearinghouse of students that would allow all districts to have a common understanding of student’s abilities from the moment they enter a new school with no wasted time of re-testing the child. SIF is a great tool to do this since it is nimble enough to provide data to many different resources in a very short amount of time. Districts can get the information into their own private systems with little effort and again without hiring an expert or paying someone to collate data. SIF also enables a common way to define the Common Core Standards in a technical format and the XML conversion standards to the Common Core Standards published by the Council of Chief State School Officers' (CCSSO) Education Information Management Advisory Consortium (EIMAC) were constructed to be valid against the LearningStandardItem and Learning StandardItem XML Schemas published by SIF.

Write Backs (and in all directions)

In the current state, most SIF Agents will publish and subscribe and the Student Management System is the primary application publishing in most cases. However, we are starting to see agents publish back into the student management system as well as to local data warehouses. So SIF is becoming just not a transport of data that help the business side of schools but they are starting to allow for the collating of data and information so that a digital learning profile of the student can be shaped and molded. SIF is just starting to get into this area and it is becoming exciting to see how this will inform instruction.

Whether we are talking about just helping districts with state reporting or the gathering data to allow for a very rich student profile and inform instruction and assessments, SIF is starting to knock down walls that were formally in the way.

(If you would like more information about SIF, go to www.sifassociation.org)
[Full Disclosure: James Yap has recently been elected to the SIF US Board]

James Yap and Teresa Ivey

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