Content Article

Interoperability: What It Is and Why It Matters for Your School

Oct 20, 2023
Interop photo

In May of 2022, Edmentum achieved Project Unicorn’s Tier 4 Interoperability Certification—the highest level available. Project Unicorn is a coalition of state education officials, nonprofits and technology industry representatives that advocates for interoperability and provides a set of independent certification standards.

Project Unicorn began as an effort to improve data interoperability within K–12 education and create a set of principles and a rubric designed to guide data management challenges. While most edtech products have some level of interoperability, having a comprehensive and robust approach (as a Tier 4) is rare the proverbial unicorn. Project Unicorn’s interoperability certification has four different tiers, with each progressively higher tier representing a more seamless integration.

Only a few dozen education technology companies have achieved the Project Unicorn Interoperability Certification, and only a small number of those have achieved Tier 4 certification—the most rigorous level. This designation means that our products and platforms can be easily integrated with many other applications. But what does this mean for schools and districts?

Data show that school systems that integrate their technology applications engage more teachers and enroll more students and that those students undertake more learning and diagnostic activities. School systems typically use a wide range of applications to manage enrollment, supplement instruction and learning, measure student progress, and tailor interventions to improve outcomes. Consequently, it’s important for school leaders and decision-makers weighing edtech investments to carefully consider whether the platforms they choose can be easily integrated with other applications.

Edmentum’s experience with interoperability, including extensive data collected from school systems across the country, demonstrates the impact that integrated systems have for teachers and students. Let’s take a deeper look at how Edmentum’s interoperability stacks up and how it makes saving time, driving success, and bolstering student achievement easier for your whole school community.

What is interoperability?

Interoperability is the seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of usable data between applications. Essentially, this enables different software applications to “talk” to each other. For educational technology, the most important aspect of interoperability is the seamless connecting of student information. This means, for example, that a teacher can enroll an entire class of students with a few clicks of a mouse, rather than typing in names one student at a time. Security and data confidentiality are also critical to interoperability in education.

Why interoperability matters

The ability of different educational software packages to communicate seamlessly isn’t an abstract technical standard. Interoperability across technology applications improves efficiencies and safeguards student data and information. This creates a robust digital ecosystem that significantly increases the value for educators, students, and families.

For educators:

Interoperability is a major time-saver. Adopting a new app or educational resource is quicker when students can be added with the click of a button. Providing students with seamless access to new software saves valuable classroom time that otherwise can turn teachers into ad hoc tech-support specialists. And perhaps most importantly, secure integration with student grade records and other applications and resources allows teachers to quickly integrate the new application into their overall curriculum and lesson plans.

For students and families:

Interoperability removes the friction that can limit the value of a new platform or resource. Depending on how the resource is configured, students can gain access through the same portal and login ID they use for other applications. Parents and caregivers aren’t forced into unofficial at-home tech-support roles. And students spend less time struggling with technology and more time learning.

For school systems:

Interoperability has two main benefits. First, because it makes rostering students and adopting new technologies and resources simpler, schools get more value from their edtech investments. Limited resources are a fact of life in K–12 education, so maximizing the value of investments in technology is essential. Second, interoperability opens up new opportunities for administrators and teachers to harness data for new interventions and programs that improve student outcomes.

Interoperability is a significant challenge for K–12 schools. The typical school system, according to a 2020 industry survey, accesses more than 1,300 educational technology apps each month. Getting those apps to communicate and share information would represent a quantum leap in the ability of school districts to leverage data and use resources efficiently in their pursuit of student achievement.

Edmentum Insights

According to Andy Kuritzky, product management director and leader of interoperability initiatives at Edmentum, the process of going through Project Unicorn’s assessment for the Tier 4 Interoperability Certification led to new insights into the substantive benefits that interoperability creates.

One of the biggest challenges that schools face when investing in edtech is finding a solution that not only meets their needs but also can stand the test of time and continue to support and adapt to their dynamic student body year after year.

Schools that integrated their systems with Edmentum solutions were more likely to stay with Edmentum for multiple years than nonintegrated systems. That reduces the churn of software applications that can be time-consuming and stressful for staff, teachers, and students who find themselves needing to learn new applications at the start of a new school year.

And there were other benefits too.

School systems that have integrated Edmentum products with other applications see significantly greater participation by students and teachers. For example, in the 2021–22 school year, integrated school systems:

  • Enrolled 4 times more teachers than nonintegrated systems
  • Enrolled 2 times more students than nonintegrated schools

In the same year, students in school systems that have integrated Edmentum products:

  • Launched 11.9% more Edmentum Exact Path activities than those in nonintegrated schools
  • Completed 25% more diagnostics than those in nonintegrated systems

Interoperability saves teachers time so that they can focus on teaching, makes it easier for students to access more learning aids and resources, ensures that students are always getting the best curriculum possible for their individual needs, and increases the return on investment for school systems seeking the most value from limited budgets.

Certifications like those offered by Project Unicorn are an important way for edtech stakeholders—technology providers, school systems, educators, and students—to remain focused on improving student outcomes.

At Edmentum, we submit our programs to rigorous state and third-party agencies for review, approval, and national recognition to ensure the quality of our curriculum and assessments. As a result, educators can feel confident that Edmentum programs are aligned to standards and that they provide learners with engaging experiences to drive toward meaningful outcomes. Learn more on our approvals page.

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