Data – no, not the character from the hit television series Star Trek -- travels an amazing and mainly unknown journey through galaxies of complex IT systems that only perhaps Stephen Hawking can fully articulate.

As the newest member of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s sponsorship team in Dayton, Ohio, I have been inundated recently with compliance issues and database systems.  The database systems are intended to support timely and voluminous data-gathering and reporting between schools and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), and to make that data accessible to the public and researchers.  My most recent assimilation did not involve the Borg, but instead involved ODE’s Education Management Information System, or EMIS.

EMIS, established in 1989, is expansive to say the least. It is ODE’s main data collection source for primary and secondary education, including demographic, attendance, course information, financial data, and test results.  EMIS’ collected data falls into four general categories: district level, student, staff, and financial data.  A community school must timely enter and maintain all of this data into their computer, in goal of sharing it with ODE. In practice, however, this is not as simple as a school merely downloading its data directly into an ODE portal each month and calling it a victory.

All states have similar data systems nowadays, but Ohio’s is deficient among its peers in some regards. First, as Auditor Yost has highlighted, Ohio law prevents the state from having personally identifiable student data.  Instead both ODE and schools are dependent on outside contractors and a system of 23 Information Technology Centers, or ITCs.  This is not a model of efficiency and not all ITCs are on equal footing; yet, the ITC remains a crucial cog that allows individual community schools to timely and accurately submit school-level data required by EMIS.

All states have similar data systems nowadays, but Ohio’s is deficient among its peers in some regards.

Second, there are still a handful of schools that do not have high-speed internet lines to adequately transfer data to their ITC, even if such data had already been reported into a software system prior to ITC transmission.  This too-often scenario, unfortunately, results in data errors being transmitted to ODE, which in turn, creates more work later for both ODE and schools, as schools are asked for verification or for correction of errors.

Finally, the software itself needs updated.  ODE’s response to this has been the roll out of the EMIS_R (Redesign) Project.  Emis_R is meant to enhance the data flow from ITC to ODE via its vertical reporting framework or VRF.  It also uses the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) standard, which is a standard that allows data to be exchanged between disparate applications.  By 2015, SIF will be the standard for software vendors who wish to operate in Ohio for EMIS reporting.  Certainly, this new standard will go a long way in better software capabilities, less errors and enhanced reporting experiences for both schools and ODE… but that is still several years away.  As it stands today with EMIS, assimilation of data is still not seamless, even when under the shroud of forced assimilation.

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