AEM Blue

If you are reading this, you have likely heard the word “interoperability” mentioned in conversation, read an article that referenced it, or come across it in your professional or personal life.

But have you found yourself wondering, what is interoperability anyway? You are not alone.

Believe it or not, you benefit from interoperability every day without noticing it. Do you check your email on your phone but also on your tablet and/or your laptop? Most of us do this regularly and don’t think about the fact that checking it on one device will show it as “read” on the other devices. When interoperability works, it goes unnoticed.

Let’s take a closer look and dive into what interoperability means for the education ecosystem. The data interoperability initiative Project Unicorn defines interoperability as “the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications.”

Ok, that is how it is defined, but what are the impacts? What are the benefits? How does it improve education outcomes for students?

Educators strive to strategize at the student level.

Let’s start with a story that highlights a common problem of practice facing our educators today. It’s the beginning of a new school year— cue the composition notebooks, sharpened pencils lined up perfectly in a case, new backpacks, and, of course, the back to school jitters.

Ms. Becca is a middle school English teacher. Much like her new students, and regardless of her twelve years of teaching experience, she still gets those back-to-school nerves. She heads into her classroom the week before school starts to set up her room, prepare her new lesson plans, and to find out as much as she can about the 128 students in the six sections of English Literature she will be teaching this fall.

Once the boards are decorated and the desks are rearranged, she sits down to tackle the hardest part of her job every year: preparing lesson plans and teaching strategies for a group of students that she knows very little about.

How did her new students do on their summative and formative assessments last year? What are their Lexile levels? What was their past progress from semester to semester and from year to year? Are there any trends that she can identify and dig into? Who are the middle-of-the-road students who might get “lost” in a sea of students receiving interventions for over-or under-performing? Who can she pair up or group together for collaborative learning? How many students will require differentiated lesson plans and modified tasks?

Interoperability gives educators the tools they need.

Unfortunately, there is not a single place where she can go to find this information. So, she starts the tremendous task of digging and sorting through multiple disparate sets of data. She logs into the school gradebook to see her student’s historical grade information. Next, she logs into the school reading assessment site to see how they progressed during the previous year. Finally, she logs into the school special education system to review existing IEPs of her students.

After a few hours she realizes that even if she had four more weeks before the beginning of the school year, she would not have the data she requires to make the most informed decisions for her classes. The relevant information that gives her a 360-degree view of her students’ needs is disconnected and located in so many different places. So, like many other educators today, she does the best that she can with the information she has access to and continues planning for the start of the school year.

But what if Ms. Becca did have access to this kind of data? What if she was able to not only view this level of detail for her new students, but also have access to this data throughout the school year? What if she could open a near-real time report or dashboard that displayed an overview of each one of her students as well as the ability to dive deeper into supporting data?

This would be a game changer for Ms. Becca. This would have an incredible, direct impact on the educational outcomes of all her students. This is the promise of interoperability. The most innovative schools and districts in our country are already reaping the rewards of interoperability.

Interoperability can improve educational outcomes for students.

Interoperability provides educators with endless possibilities for student data analysis. It prevents them from getting bogged down sifting through data sets, opening additional time for them to focus on their students, teaching, and learning.

The following is a sampling of some additional practical applications and benefits of interoperability in education:

  • Secure and seamless transfer of and access to student data
  • Connecting and linking of datasets for review and reporting purposes for actionable insights
  • Increased efficiencies and reduction of manual and repetitive tasks associated with data analysis and maintenance


Learn more about interoperability and move forward.

Organizations looking to engage in the interoperability debate and to begin moving towards an interoperable future for people like Ms. Becca are often uncertain about exactly where to start and what, if any, small steps can be taken to get them moving forward. 

There are several great resources out there that can facilitate increased learning around interoperability. Take some time to further develop your team’s awareness and fluency with interoperability topics and connection to other organizations at the forefront of the movement. A few examples to consider: 

Project Unicorn – Project Unicorn is an effort to improve data interoperability within K-12 education. It aims to create a community of innovators who make the broader case for secure interoperability by determining shared priorities, working in partnership with school systems and vendors to understand its importance and benefits, creating a demand side push for interoperability through partnerships, and educating buyers to consider the total cost of ownership through informed comparison of vendors.

COSN Interoperability Maturity Model – The Consortium for School Networking is an association for school system technology leaders that provides thought leadership resources, community, best practices, and advocacy tools to help leaders succeed in the digital transformation. Their interoperability maturity model provides a tool that supports users in determining level and degrees of interoperability within an organization.

“Integration Does Not Interoperability Make” – Interoperability expert Jim Campbell has written this related post in our ongoing series devoted to interoperability.

Digital Promise Interoperability Video - Digital Promise’s mission is to accelerate innovation in education to improve opportunities to learn. This interoperability video provides an overview of the benefits of interoperability in education.

AEM has been supporting interoperability and implementation for the past ten years. Our staff includes individuals who implemented the nation’s first statewide interoperable solution; who have implemented interoperable solutions at districts, states, and universities; participated in boards, committees, and technical groups for national interoperability organizations and standards bodies; and have supported education stakeholders across the local, state, and federal ecosystem with interoperability initiatives.

If you have a question on education data interoperability, we probably have an answer. Feel free to reach out to us any time if you have any questions.


Massachusetts EOE Improves Development Capabilities Using Scaled ...

In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of project management and how the Massachusetts EOE has chosen to modernize their practices by implementing a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). We explore the ways in which this helps to improve resource allocation and project outcomes, and why it is important to take a structured approach to project management.

Data for One, Data for All

(Thanks to Johan Rempel from the Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation (CIDI) at Georgia Tech, who contributed to this article.)

The importance and impact of equitable access to data cannot be overstated. Data can directly impact personal decision making, and it informs policy, research, and education from the local level through to the federal level.

The old ‘knowledge is power’ adage could just as easily be replaced with ‘access to data is power.’ As it relates to the early childhood through K12 populations, stakeholders of that data may include any number people, including parents, educators, government entities, administrators, policymakers, researchers, and students themselves.

Announcing the Chief Privacy Officer Network for State Education ...

AEM is proud to support the US Department of Education’s Student Privacy Policy Office with the launch of the Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) Network for state education agencies.

The CPO Network has kicked off with CPO participation from 28 states, representing privacy and security leadership over education records for more than 30 million public education students. CPOs in the network bring a range of experience, from one month in their role to more than 17 years of direct experience.