I See Your True Colors Shining Through (Digital on Day One and IMS Compatibility Check)

IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | September 2020

"I see your true colors shining through." —Cyndi Lauper


I’m taking a brief break from the series on equity, agency, and mastery to give a shout out of appreciation to the entire K-12 edtech world for the overwhelming support of IMS Global’s OneRoster standard during return to school this fall. I will get to mastery and the overall summation of the series next month.

Why the pause? Because I just need to acknowledge that all that technical work, advocacy, and commitment to the OneRoster standard has clearly changed the future of edtech forever. So many people and organizations deserve so much credit. OneRoster of all IMS standards really exemplifies the “power of one” that is the heart and soul of IMS.

In many ways, we have come to take for granted that the IMS member school districts will go above and beyond to make a better future for all kids and teachers. They certainly made OneRoster happen. And we have also come to expect that some number of visionary and pragmatic suppliers will go the extra mile so that integration among products can be ubiquitous, seamless, and low cost. But the success of OneRoster has clearly gone beyond. Way beyond.

Similar to what IMS saw with the radical flip to open integrations in learning management systems with LTI, the OneRoster explosion has now initiated an even more dramatic 180-degree turnaround in a K-12 market where it seemed every publisher and SIS had their own rostering approach. Within a matter of 12-24 months, the market has turned. Why? A mix of common sense and focus from IMS community leaders on the good of students and teachers. Common sense was that the exchange of roster data with a publisher or SIS is not rocket science. However, even I was surprised how major publishers readily admitted that their technical approach (which amounted to every publisher reinventing pretty much the same thing—only in their “special” way) was costing them more than it was worth. Most also realized that charging school districts for custom integrations was not a scalable approach to the future of digital. The good for teachers and students is characterized by what we like to call “digital on day one.” While achieving a seamless digital on day one requires additional integration standards (like LTI), the rostering burden has been the largest blocker in K-12.

But perhaps the clearest sign that the market has changed is the literally ubiquitous claims by both suppliers and school districts that they are leveraging OneRoster, most of whom are not IMS member organizations. One of the most gratifying experiences as IMS CEO is to be on a webinar panel with non-member school districts and suppliers who are expressing overwhelming thanks to IMS for OneRoster and the other IMS work. We know from our long history with standards in IMS that the claims and acceptance by non-members mean that things will never go back to the past.

However, we at IMS are far from congratulating ourselves. As one IMS school district member once famously said, “Interoperability is not all unicorns and rainbows.” IMS is right in the middle of OneRoster usage in all size school districts, by significant publishers, LMS and SIS providers, and integrators. So, we see it all. There is much room for improvement. The net-net is that we (the edtech “ecosystem” collectively) are not all on the same page quite yet. And, as a result, the community is not achieving the level of return on investment that we know is possible and that we seek. 

Therefore, this is not the time to be slowing down the market support for OneRoster, but rather turn it up a notch to help all size school districts achieve the full benefits in terms of choice, innovation, cost savings, and digital on day one.

An important subcomponent of achieving everything we can for schools is that the edtech product companies that are the consumers of OneRoster rostering data and emitters of gradebook data must be able to have the same experience from any provider of OneRoster data or receiver of OneRoster gradebook. Along with that, every school district must have complete transparency into their software systems OneRoster data exchange. Simply put, divergence is not an option now that we have come this far.

If that sounds like a big promise, well, it’s an unprecedented convergence of the edtech ecosystem. The good news is we already have many of the key pieces as described in the Ecosystem Accelerator program required to help every market participant get OneRoster right. Recently, I recorded a 5-minute intro on why we need IMS Compatibility Check that you or colleagues may find helpful. Some additional pieces are needed, but I am confident that we can do this together.

Success in continued convergence and return on investment of OneRoster in the market will require ongoing leadership from the IMS members. I think we can count on that. But, an unprecedented level of leadership in both transparency of the details of OneRoster implementations and technical collaboration on identifying and fixing implementation issues. We are involved in some very serious conversations to refine market support for OneRoster and do it fast so that one year from today the OneRoster convergence in the marketplace is substantially better than it is today!