What if districts could connect their technology the way phones connect to speakers, TVs, and laptops? Thanks to data standards—they can. By using a common set of rules, data standards collect, manage, and organize data across multiple systems within a district, giving administrators a complete picture of data.
One of the greatest advocates for data standards is the North East Florida Educational Consortium (NEFEC
), an education service agency located in Putnam County.
"Pairing Ed-Fi with systems like Skyward helps us put our focus back towards helping each student achieve.
In 2009, NEFEC began providing training, hosting, and support to districts throughout Florida using Skyward’s student and business suites, in addition to other technology. While Skyward’s solutions provided many benefits over the years, the consortium realized more education tools were being added and supported each school year, leading to scattered data. With the problem likely to get worse in coming years, NEFEC researched the merits behind Ed-Fi
, a data standard which could organize and format data across multiple systems in the consortium. A lightbulb went off; NEFEC and its partnering districts realized the standard could revolutionize the future of data operations and drastically cut down on the time each district spent writing third-party integrations.
With endless possibilities in sight, NEFEC partnered with Ed-Fi and introduced the standard to member districts. Now numerous districts throughout Florida continue to use their favorite technology while receiving an organized, high-level view of student, staff, and financial data
"Ed-Fi provides our staff with a way to view the entire student through multiple systems. We can connect the powerful data from Skyward and other tools so that they live in one spot,"
Data Standards and Information Systems
For years, NEFEC member districts relied on Skyward’s School Management Suite
to manage crucial school data. However, each district also used its own variety of apps and software to manage unique information. As the assortment of tools grew, school leaders hopped between systems to import and export data, leaving less time to focus on student outcomes. Administrators needed a technological “glue”—and they got it in the form of Ed-Fi.
“People are hired at a school district to help students learn and grow—they aren’t hired to figure out custom data formats,” stated Sherod Keen, application support analyst at NEFEC. “Pairing Ed-Fi with systems like Skyward helps us put our focus back towards helping each student achieve.”
Before NEFEC implemented Ed-Fi, most member districts struggled with state and federal reporting. Administrators rarely had every piece of data necessary for accurate reports, and if they wanted to collect data from each of their preferred systems, the process would take weeks—sometimes months. Due to Skyward’s certification
as an Ed-Fi partner, data is now exchanged with other systems at faster, more accurate rates.
“We want Skyward to be the best student and finance package there is, and be darn good at that,” explained Daniel Hornsby, applications manager at NEFEC. “With the help of Ed-Fi, we can bring in data from other products that are the best in their area, and view a complete picture using reports, analytics, and visualizations.”
“Part of an SIS’s job is to send quality data to the state, and an increasing number of states have implemented Ed-Fi. Therefore, if a state is collecting data through a certain standard, it becomes a no-brainer that districts need an SIS like Skyward with Ed-Fi functionality,” added Keen.
"If a state is collecting data through a certain standard, it becomes a no-brainer that districts need an SIS like Skyward with Ed-Fi functionality."
At each of NEFEC’s district locations, hundreds of data points were created in the classroom and tied to individual students. Homework, classwork, and online tests dispersed across multiple systems, making it difficult for administrators to gauge the full performance of a student. Ed-Fi has since consolidated each district’s data into one hub, helping teachers and administrators deliver more personalized instruction.
“Ed-Fi provides our staff with a way to view the entire student through multiple systems. We can connect the powerful data from Skyward and other tools so that they live in one spot,” explained Keen. “Now anyone can easily write and view custom visualizations they would have spent months gathering when they didn’t have Ed-Fi’s integration.
”With new levels of timeliness, data from Skyward and other systems is more powerful than ever.
“The second I pull information from Skyward or any other system, it’s like driving a car off the lot; it loses value,” explained Keen. “As time goes, data decreases in value, but when you have systems connected to each other with real-time information flowing, it’s not losing its value; it’s maintaining value.
”Now, NEFEC and its partner districts have the information they need, when they need it, giving administrators and teachers the opportunity to make data-driven decisions in the classroom more quickly.
While most districts devote a majority of resources toward student information, NEFEC is also using Ed-Fi to develop tailored professional development opportunities for staff. The consortium, along with the entire state of Florida, faced a teacher shortage for years. By pairing Ed-Fi with employee information found in Skyward, NEFEC drilled down to identify paraprofessionals who qualified for teacher certification.
“Our districts had trouble finding teachers, so they took the data within Ed-Fi and Skyward to examine paraprofessionals who had some level of college experience, but weren’t up to a full teacher level,” explained Hornsby.
Once NEFEC pinpointed eligible staff, the consortium partnered with a local college to help paraprofessionals become certified teachers by earning their bachelor’s degrees. According to Keen and Hornsby, this might be the greatest Ed-Fi-related accomplishment yet.
“We’ve found at least 30 paraprofessionals that are now directly working with the University of Florida in a special program to earn their degrees as teachers and remain at our district,” explained Keen. “That’s huge. Here are people that love school, that love helping students, and they just need to go a little bit further. With Ed-Fi and Skyward, we can help them go the distance.
”One thing is clear—NEFEC’s implementation of Ed-Fi has given new meaning to data-driven education. Administrators are more informed, paraprofessionals have an improved career path with their district, and teachers remain committed to their preferred technology while personalizing education for students.
Keen poses one last question to districts after recounting the benefits his consortium has experienced: “Tell me how you are going to do what we’ve done without using Ed-Fi and Skyward?”