Implementing Interoperability at the State Level
In the fall of 2001, Visual Software began its journey of taking its technology that “added services to existing applications without requiring changes to be made to those applications” and modifying them to work with an emerging educational standard called SIF, the Schools Interoperability Framework. This new standard had the promise and the advantage of allowing educational applications from any compatible vendor to exchange information with any other compatible vendors.
In 2007, with the acquisition of our first larger customer (, with 1.7 million students and 2,700 schools), we began a process to redesign all of our products from the ground up. Our goal was to handle implementations this large (or even larger) where the infrastructure is implemented in a single location and shared by all the endpoints.
For example, using the SIF terminology, when data is passed from one application to another where many applications are involved, the data transmission and security is handled by a piece of software called by a broker or "Zone Integration Server (ZIS)". In the model used in several states, this piece of software is replicated and maintained at every district.
State-Level Shared Components
At the SEA, we’ve seen several needs that can be addressed efficiently using SIF, including:
- Basic data collection and consolidation of data from district Student Information Systems into an Operational Data Store (ODS). This might include:
- SIF-enabled applications
- Applications that can produce CSV files
- Enhanced data collection from multiple applications at districts into an Enterprise Data Store (EDS), including:
- HR Systems (more complete staff information)
- Special Education Systems (more complete information than what is stored in SIS)
- Identity (directory) management
- Student ID creation / Records transfer
Visual Software has COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) applications that address a number of these needs, plus it provides the infrastructure needed to support them:
The Operational / Enterprise Data Store (ODS/EDS) — Veracity™
Veracity is an out-of-the box enterprise-class, SIF-based application that maintains a consolidated repository of the data it collects from school district applications in real time, providing the following:
- The ability to quality-check the collected data in real time against policies established by the SEA (guidelines for collections)
- The ability to notify districts where they are with respect to their readiness for the next collection cycle in summary form
- A secure interface for district staff to access error details so that the issues can be resolved and eliminated permanently in the source systems
- Optionally, a foundation for a document management system where documents (scanned images or any other digital files) can be attached to any record collected and stored in the data store (Depending on how it is set up, the document store itself can be at the SEA or at the district.)
Because it has built-in data quality checking rules, it can also be deployed as a “data quality gateway” – as a front end to other systems. Examples of these are systems that assign identity values (Student IDs, Staff IDs, School IDs, etc.) and prepare data for federal reporting, or others that need to be assured that the data has been verified before it is passed to them.
Federal Reporting — Acuity™
When states prepare reports to be sent to the federal department of education, the data typically:
- needs to go through a validation process to make sure it passed SEA-level checks and is consistent between districts
- needs to be converted to a format consistent with the US Department-defined CEDS schema
To help in this process, we have developed our Acuity product. Acuity works either with raw data from school district zones or from a post-Veracity “data quality gateway” zone to receive input data in SIF format and store it in a CEDS-like form. This database schema is similar to the official CEDS schema, but it has been de-normalized to make it practical for everyday use.
If connected to school district raw data, Acuity will combine or split SIF objects as needed to create the equivalent CEDS objects, perform any required data translations and keep the CEDS repository up-to-date in real time as the data is received from the Student Information Systems at the districts.
If connected to a Veracity “data quality gateway” clean zone, it will perform the same activities, but the data may be pre-synchronized. For example, all of the student demographic data for a given student may arrive at the same time even though it was not sent that way by the originating Student Information System. In this case, the rules in Veracity might have been written told hold off sending a student’s enrollment information if the corresponding student demographic wasn’t sent for some reason.
Available Acuity / CEDS Implementations
Although our product line is mostly implemented using Microsoft technologies, the CEDS database itself may be stored in the following formats:
- Microsoft SQL Server (2008 R2, 2012 R2, 2014, 2016, or 2017)
- Oracle 12c
To connect everything together, Visual Software offers three products: