SIF Association

This blog is run by the staff of the SIF (Schools/Systems Interoperability Framework) Association for the use of it's members and the general educational community.

It is specifically designed for those who are interested in understanding what SIF is about, where the standard is going and how Schools, Districts and State Educational Authorities will benefit.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

SIF US v2.6: Extensions for Staff Assignment and Evaluation

With the pending release of SIF US v2.6 next month (it is currently half way through 30 day member review) it seemed timely to present a few more of the functionality highlights contained in this featureful version.  In this posting we will focus on how various federal requirements and initiatives related to Staffing are supported, by looking at two SIF object types introduced with this release.

Staff Section Assignment is a “junction object” which links a Staff member to a Section, and contains information about that relationship.  Probably the most important element is the Teacher of Record (TOR) value which assigns a responsibility or credit percentage for a specific portion of a student's learning to a particular teacher or set of teachers.  It can also be used to track whether or not a student comes into contact with a teacher or group of teachers, and the extent of that contact.
Besides the obvious instructional benefits, many teacher accountability systems utilize this kind of information to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers within the context of the subject being taught and the assessments used to measure student progress. TOR was specifically designed to support Race to the Top and existing APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) regulations from various states. 

Staff Evaluation Info standardizes the reporting of additional APPR information. It includes elements containing Staff, School and Evaluator ID, Bargaining Unit, type of staff evaluation, evaluation milestone dates (from pre to post conference), evaluation tool(s) used, and a section by section breakdown of the evaluation results (name, score and scale) and the final recommendation.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Assessment Interoperability Framework (AIF)

The SIF Association and the IMS Global Learning Consortium have just released version 1 of the Assessment Interoperability Framework (AIF) as part of a joint partnership established to support the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top Assessment (RTTA) Program.  This unprecedented collaboration between the two leading educational data standards offers a significant advance over paper assessments, which are now demonstrably inferior to their electronic counterparts with respect to cost, processing time and ability to personalize instruction and leverage centralized professional development resources.

The AIF initial release includes:
  • Definitions, assumptions, use case analysis and elements that satisfy interoperability requirements derived from SBAC, PARCC and industry sources, 
  • A high-level interoperability architecture definition for constructing a modular Assessment Platform, and a set of documented best practices showing how this Assessment Platform can be integrated into the broader education systems enterprise,
  • A concrete and scalable demonstration satisfying key auto-assessment use cases and proving that solutions conformant with the AIF architecture can be deployed on platforms other than PowerPoint

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has recognized the value of this initiative, and is providing contract support for:
  • Development of a follow on versions of the AIF
  • Gap analysis and identification AIF data elements for inclusion in the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS)

The full press release can be found on the SIF Association website here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

SIF US v2.6 enters 30 day member review

The SIF v2.6 release draft documents have been completed, approved and distributed to the SIF membership for a final 30 day review and comment period.  We anticipate a public release in early June.

This is a very feature-ful release and it contains a set of long awaited functional extensions to the existing standard. In fact this list is long enough that there was too much information to pack into a single posting.  So we'll start with the infrastructure advances and one rather unexpected new data object.

In large implementations of SIF, scalability issues can arise when processing excessive numbers of SIF Event messages. This is most noticeable during periods of peak traffic which might occur at the end of a reporting period when many attendance events are posted, or at New Year rollover.

Sending many changes from one agent to another via separate small SIF Event messages can be inefficient.  The requirement to wait for an HTTP/S acknowledgment before sending the next message in an agent’s queue means any delay on the part of the recipient in accepting, persisting or responding to messages adds to the transient network latencies, lengthening the time required to transfer any large number of messages.

With SIF v2.6, it becomes possible for applications and / or  the ZIS to “bundle” multiple SIF event messages and transmit and acknowledge them in a  single “Events” message.  Early performance test results indicate that utilizing this functionality resulted in maximum SIF Zone message latency times declining by over 300%!

Energy Usage Object
Today, SIF student data is provided in the identical format by multiple SIF-certified systems and sent “upstream” to District and State Educational Authorities.  This enables an apples-to-apples comparison of school effectiveness, the results of which can then be later analyzed to make informed educational policy decisions.

The new SIF v2.6 EnergyUsage object is designed to do precisely the same thing for energy usage data.  By standardizing on how this data is reported “upstream”, this object can validate energy usage best practices that will help educational authorities construct an informed green school energy policy, potentially  resulting in significant monetary savings.

Specifically the ability to correlate the energy usage, demand cost and external environmental data (such as temperature) in a series of standardized time based measurements has the potential to vastly increase the effectiveness of Energy Analysis and Reporting programs at the State and District levels in terms of flagging equipment problems (ex: the thermostat at Building X appears to “flutter” whenever the outside temperature hits 65 degrees, turning the building heater on and off and wasting energy) and providing hard data feedback on energy audits and retrofit project effectiveness.

By leveraging the full duplex data exchange capabilities provided by the underlying vertical reporting framework, the SIF Energy Usage Object will also permit schools to participate in a variety of utility and grid-managed energy demand programs.
Whether you are a current deployer or vendor of SIF solutions, or whether you are still in the kick-the-tire phase, the SIF v2.6 release is one you might want to carefully evaluate.  And of course like all v2.x releases, it is fully backward compatible with all  previous v2.x versions.

But there is more to SIF v2.6 than this.  Don't touch that dial!