Designing Architecture For School Interoperability

by Michael D. King
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STAR (Student Tracking and Reporting)
It is the intent of this paper to support school districts in designing and implementing Architecture For School Interoperability model entitled STAR a Student Tracking and Reporting system for their district. STAR is a comprehensive model designed to improve student learning through applied available technologies for data decision making based upon NCLB accountability standards. This paper recognizes five distinct tenets as key elements in Student Tracking and Reporting (STAR) design. These five tenets will provide information on how a individual district or state department of education can implement an infrastructure to monitor real-time assessment of the progress toward the improvement of student learning using horizontal articulation to manage and report to the local district State Department of Education by complying with SIF and Open-Standards’ web-based tools.

Meeting State and Federal Demands
As school data becomes pivotal to instructional decisions, storing and retrieving data becomes a processes of vital importance because data driven decision making is the way schools in the future will be forced to provide evidence of effectiveness, not only academically but economically as well. School Districts across the nation are now faced more than ever with the task of investing in resources to build and safeguard data repositories that will meet the overwhelming demands of the multiple measures real time reporting required by local, state and federal reporting. School districts across the Nation are currently faced with the challenge of improving classroom instruction, data retrieval, and accountability in an ever-changing society. There exists a need to create newer, faster, and more unified software systems which will enable the school districts in every state to forward information on request/receive demand. In the near future, school districts across the state will be responsible for gathering and sharing an array of reported data including formative academic assessments and end-of-instruction assessments; attendance and suspension rates; real-time student report cards to meet the needs of No Child Left Behind Act; and ACT/SAT college entrance examination scores. Exploring information beyond the data achieved through the State Indicators or Criterion Reference Test results, school districts must determine the best method to assess student progress and to plan instruction. To accomplish the growing demand on data retrieval, individual School Districts and State Boards of Education will need to develop a seamless approach for gathering and implementing accountability data which would ensure improvement of student learning and records sharing.

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Zone Integration
The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) Specification is a "set of common definitions for school data and a set of rules for how the data can be shared". Data is broken up into zones that are managed by a central Zone Integration Server (ZIS).The ZIS then sends out and receives data from all of the different SIF-enabled applications Application Agents (See Reference). Traditionally, the standalone software applications being used by public school districts have the limitation of data isolation; that is, it is difficult to access, share and integrate a cumulative data reporting system. This often results in redundant data entry, meaning that data entry are not standardized through multiple software applications which influences data integrity, and inefficient or incomplete reporting. In many districts software applications are purchased in separate packages. The lunch service department may prefer one software application while , health services, transportation and student information systems are all under different company labels and have their own special reports that are not under one integration system, each being backed up under their own departments server or hosted out through a web based application.

Interoperability Framework
In such cases, all department information can appear in multiple places but may not be identical, for example, or decision makers may be working with incomplete or inaccurate information entered by multiple users. When multiple key entry platforms, end users, lack of central backup systems are a Katrina nightmare waiting to happen in multiple district across this nation as well as a technology coordinators increase in technical support and problems associated with maintaining numerous proprietary systems. To resolve these problems SIF (Schools Interoperability Framework) products began to appear on the market as early as 1999. SIF was initiated to create "a blueprint for educational software interoperability and data access that threaded individual software applications through a central server where seamless data could be converged, stored, backed-up and used in real time reporting. In other words to seamlessly transfer data from multiple department silos of information each district will need to employ the installation of a Zone Integration Server (ZIS) architecture in order to make multi-measure data useful in the facilitation of change.
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Through the development of ZIS architecture, school districts should be committed to a number of data analysis tools for tracking school improvement while allowing the flexibility of adding future applications to the data sharing zone. Such data analysis will include monitoring district constructed benchmark assessments; measuring student performances through content analysis; tracking at-risk student performance; and providing real-time student assessment information to each Department of Education Zone Integrated Server (ZIS) through an Extensible Markup Language (XML), an industry Open-Standard data format which allows state and federal agencies the readability of pertinent student-tracking information. The Open-Standard data format provided through an SIF framework will enable each district across the state to share data that moves among other software applications to support 'horizontal interoperability. This data sharing will allow administrators and teachers to streamline data management and create a true information management system. The newly designed system will integrate disparate data repositories through a platform-independent, vendor-neutral communications architecture based on open-standard rule.

No Child Left Behind and Data Accountability
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 is breaking new ground by requiring the collection of data that describes school effectiveness through measurements of student progress and staff effectiveness. This Act outlines four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work. The data points necessary to make these determinations come from across the pre-school through twelfth grade enterprise including student enrollment by socio-economic status, student performance on standardized tests disaggregated by race and ethnicity, class schedules, and staff qualifications and teaching assignments. In many school systems across the Nation, most of this data is maintained in a variety of unconnected software applications. The required data import/export task is time-consuming and costly. These applications are often purchased by different departments within a school or district, resulting in data ‘silos’ that mirror the school and district organizational structure. The impact of NCLB is that schools, districts, and states must draw their data out of these disparate applications in order to respond to the new requirements imposed by NCLB's ‘horizontal questions’ which cut across the software and organizational silos. Nationwide individual state departments of education need to recognize advancements in real-time technology that can provide local districts the opportunity through ZIS architecture to systematically account for individual and group academic and performance skills. It is the intent of this paper to demonstrate within this application a model for accomplishing the accountability questions derived from the National requirements the importance of building a National Student Tracking and Reporting System entitled "S.T.A.R."

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STAR (Student Tracking and Reporting)
The STAR (Student Tracking and Reporting) project will support the necessary management of performance outcomes and district reporting methods through the use of synchronization of data across various third party applications currently running in the districts across most states. The paper will discuss the importance of each school district implementing a School-based Interoperability Framework (SIF) that will assist in managing the following applications: (1) real-time reporting of curriculum expectations, (2) monitoring student performances in key content areas, (3) analyzing student subgroups’ performances, (4) implement electronic grading and real-time assessment viewers, (5) tracking attendance rates of individual students, (6) reporting student suspensions, (7) tracking individual educational plans, and (8) developing e-portfolios for individual students across grades eight through twelve. Through the use of Open-Standards and web-based applications, this paper will outline how individual school districts will transform their information technology from a collection of standalone silos of information to an integrated information systems platform that will enable world-class educational experiences spelled out under the NCLB Act.

Tenet One: Designing Architecture For School Interoperability
In Tenet one, “Designing Architecture For School Interoperability” will initiate all necessary points required for the planned implementation of methods addressing the issues of horizontal data through the application of a Zone Integrated Server. This goal will be achieved through the describing ways of constructing an infrastructure which supports fail-safe, centralized seamless data that tracks and reports districts, schools and individual students as they progress through our National Education System or required state reporting. With the support of, Information Technology Directors, and Business Manager and State Superintendents school districts can unify across the nation a process of seeking a new vision of information technology as a key enabler for enhancing the teaching and learning experience. Unified with this vision is the design of a data system which will provide interoperability, standardization, and centralized management. The first order of business will be to lay out a foundation on which to build a within each school district an infrastructure that will support real-time communication of data that is SIF compliant to all software applications.. At each local district it is recommended that the initial infrastructure includes at least two Dell Power Edge Rack Mounted Servers and a Dell/EMC SAN containing nearly two to four Terabytes of disk space and backup fail safe backup system which will allow centralized storage, fault tolerance, and streamlining administration of district data across individual remote sites. The end result of infrastructure improvements and the installation of the Zone Integration Server will provide a mechanism for synchronizing data across various third-party applications that are currently in operation in the district or within a reporting domain such as a state agency. The first stage of a system would include implementation of SIF compliant, student information software, with real-time electronic grade book, integrated Health Services, and Special Education applications. The second phase of SIF compliant software application to the ZIS (Zone Integrated Server) will include E-Portfolio Student Information Credentialing, School Lunch accounting systems, student formative assessment, all housed within an Academic Data Warehouse. These implementation phases would be primarily decided based upon current or dedicated funding and what software applications within the district are already SIF compliant.

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Tenet Two: Zone Integrated Server Data Warehouse Application
The Second tenet of the STAR is the Application Process which is devoted to the development and implementation of the Zone Integrated Server (ZIS). ZIS is based on Microsoft’s SQL Server for business logic and employs Microsoft’s SQL Server for data repository. With ZIS in place, data entered into any one of the applications will be replicated with other software linked to the Zone. This will eliminate the need for time and cost redundancy on data entry while improving seamless events across the network. The ZIS architecture will be built upon the Open Standard rule allowing the flexibility of adding future applications. The model presented in tenet two is designed to achieve the School’s Interoperability Framework allowing data across multiple-software platforms to be interactive with one another or the ability to be viewed as a single entity within the Zone. Although the Five Tenet model for the STAR implementation can be applied separately through SIF/Zone compliance, the STAR model will disseminate information on how to blend individual assessment tools into the big picture of the school improvement process. The STAR tenet discussed in the second section of the application will include the development of assessment tools within the SIF/Zone Framework to data-driven decisions in the following areas: (1) real-time reporting on achievement of curriculum expectations through benchmark assessment strategies, (2) monitoring student performances in key areas, and (3) electronic grading and real-time assessment viewers. The school districts goal, in phase two of the STAR Project, is to provide easy access to various constituent groups across the District and possibly to the State Reporting agency to transmit seamless real-time data. The solution would be to build a data warehouse using a Microsoft SQL server. Once this is accomplished, the district could provide preformatted and Smart Item Crystal Reports (SICR). These SICR, specially designed reports that request specific data from the Zone Integrated Server which meet the individual reporting needs of the district, will give quick and flexible access to district-wide data. Cumulative data, made available through the academic data warehouse, could include real-time reporting to specified constituent groups with Read Only Permission Rights allowed in the following areas:         State Tests that Include End Of Year Assessment and CRT Scores Class Lists Demographics Student Class Schedules Reading Inventory Assessment Results For Application Of State Drivers Licenses School Designed Benchmark Assessments In Math, Reading, Writing, and Science Individual Student Profiles That Contain Tests Scores, Attendance, Mobility, And More Individual Student Portfolios that Contain Necessary Components For College Entrance And Employability.

The data warehouse will pull information from the ZIS data repository and other critical systems into a central data store. These specific data stores will then be integrated into the district’s Web Portal providing access through the Internet. The SharePoint Portal will provide a highly customized point of entry that will be designed to share on a restrictive log-in script with teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Through log-in profiles, each constituent group will be presented with a unique, user interface and the ability to retrieve and review pertinent data for their perspective needs.

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Tenet Three: Real Time Assessment-Based School Improvement
In tenet three, the school district should reveal its proposed plan to share and aggregate data across core district applications. Within this application, a strategy should have been developed in phase two of the STAR implementation process to provide a single point of entry to a web-based, district-wide data warehouse using an open standards’ platform portal to retrieve and review pertinent data for constituent needs. The procedural development of real-time benchmark assessment strategies for measuring and analyzing real-time cumulative student growth is a simple process that can be achieved by using software package like FileMaker pro or any other database management software applications that will allow for the import and export of individual student benchmark formative assessment. Tenet Three, ‘Measuring and Analyzing Real-Time Cumulative Growth,’ involves frequency decisions on retrieval and dissemination of information. The frequency for data retrieval should be designed in such a way that assimilation of data is reported within relative short periods of time. The frequency for data retrieval from individual instructors should be instantaneous and district reporting to curriculum consultants will not extend beyond a one-week period of time. The information obtained from individual teacher assessments can be transferred to a district-level, data collection server to map curriculum progression. Data gained from this type of mapping program would give teachers real-time benchmarks regarding the skills needing further reinforcement prior to year-end state assessment.

Tenet Four: Identifying Student Performance In Key Content Areas
The identification and understanding of curriculum standards in key content areas is an important process in the improvement of student learning. Individual school districts should employ at least one individual who would be responsible to track the performance of students in specific content areas. The data manager would design and provide benchmark data that allows teachers and principals to retrieve information regarding the trends in content strengths/weaknesses and to determine gaps in learning across specific subject areas as they are validated to state testing indicators. A plan should also be provided through Professional Learning Communities on how, student information generated from the each benchmark assessment will be stored in an Academic Data Warehouse (ADW) using SIF/ZIS architecture through which our district will be able to identify content standards. Furthermore, allowing teachers to align specific learning standards in a priority order through contentanalysis reports. These content-analysis reports, generated through the Academic Data Warehouse, will provide the necessary information for each teacher within a grade level or department to select and prioritize content based on the prescriptive needs of a group of students as identified through the school’s standardized assessment instrument as well as prescribe interventions for individual students when needed. The content analysis reports will provide teachers with specific data regarding present studentproficiency levels and mastery expectations for that grade level. Content proficiencies are defined as the desired learning proficiencies that will be measured in the district’s or state’s assessment program. Finally, understanding the data, through formal teacher training, on how to apply assessment strategies to instruction is the key to increased student performance. When teachers understand the criteria for which measurement will occur, their approach to the school improvement process in regards to student learning will become more effective.

Tenet Five: Electronic Grading And Real Time Assessment Viewer
Each school district should also provide teachers, parents and students with the opportunity to review daily academic progress through real-time grade book software applications that are SIF compliant. A real-time electronic grade-book will software package is a supportive means to provide accountability on student performances. This SIF compliant student information software will provide teachers and school office staff more effective time-management opportunities by reducing clerical tasks. The reduction of clerical tasks will include multiple-point entries of student rosters, posting grades, and the real-time availability of student information. ‘Real-time Student Information’ is designed to provide a record of student achievement on individual assignments, real-time grading solutions to real-time reporting will provide administrators, teachers, and office staff with the capability to automate student grading, attendance, behavior data entry, and reporting. The interface between student information system (SIS) and the Zone Integration Server is a must if real time student information reporting is a district goal when facilitating the synchronization of data. Without SIF compliant software synchronization across the zone will be lost and multiple key data entries will become infallible to the central purpose of seamless data. The key elements of the electronic grade book will be a secure interface, an uncompromised back-up and recovery system assigned to the central server and being SIF selective based when choosing a student information system for the district. The core features of the SIF compliant student information system should include some of the following features:
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Track Class Resources/Textbooks Manage Assignment Plans Align Assignment Plans to District Defined and State Objectives/Standards Record Attendance Record Assignment Scores/Comments Track Student Performance of District Defined and State Objectives/Standards Grade Evaluation Process to Determine Eligibility and Session Grades Discipline Office Notifications Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Developer

For more information on how to select Student Information Systems that are SIF compliant or how to implement and design architecture for school interoperability contact Michael D. King at digitalsandbox1@gmail.com.

This article is under copyright protection and for any reprint of this article for commercial use you must get written permission by the author. Distribution for educational purpose has been granted as long as the authors name has been given credit for the works.

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