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Top tags: 2017  Infrastructure  2018  SIF 3  Specification  technical  Community  SDPC  2016  A4L  data privacy  global  Just The Facts  newsletter  partnerships  privacy  REST  Scalable  Secure  SIF certification  Simple  Specificatoin  Standard  Usage Survey  Vendor Marketplace  volunteer  white paper 

What REAL Partnerships are about...

Posted By Larry Fruth, Thursday, October 11, 2018

What REAL Partnerships are about...

PartnershipsOver my time in the Community, and the time spent in thousands of meetings from local schools to federal agencies, I always wished that I could interrupt the meeting and dive deeper when they mention “partnerships”. 

I do understand the concept and the continuum partnerships can exist, such as everything from “we like each other” to “a formal and legalized agreement”.  But what can you really call a “partnership”?  I believe that actions, both good and bad, define partnerships.  You can learn about partnerships when you get to hear one of the partners talking about the arrangement separate from the other, AND an analysis of actions of the partnership.

In this A4L Newsletter (September 2018) you will read about real partnerships with real deliverables:

>  The Post-Secondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC) and A4L working together to develop instructions for implementers how to interpret the XML Schema as a data model for JSON exchanges (A4L Newsletter, page 3)

The Global Education Privacy Standard (GEPS) Project bringing together the leaders of the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) and the A4L Privacy Task Force to connect privacy contractual obligations to technical benchmarks for common understanding and expectations around how privacy obligations are being met in real-world technology solutions (A4L Newsletter, page 5)

The xPress Individualized Education Plan (xPress IEP) collaboration between the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) team and the A4L working group led by TQ White.  This ideal partnership has resulted in a standardized IEP that has garnered great interest by schools, states and even vendors.  The momentum continues as the work now moves into enabling the secure transport and access to IEP information (A4L Newsletter, page 8)

There are many more in the making – but we won’t call them “partnerships” yet! 

Partnerships need to mean more than a public relations fodder.  As President Kennedy famously stated, “A partnership is not a posture but a process”, but you be the judge when you hear about “partnerships”…



Tags:  2018  Community  newsletter  partnerships 

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The A4L Vendor Marketplace goes live...

Posted By Penny Murray, Friday, April 20, 2018


The A4L Vendor Marketplace goes live....

We are delighted to announce the initial launch of the A4L Vendor Marketplace to A4L Community and Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) members!
The marketplace goes beyond the existing SIF Certification Register, and includes all companies who are members of either (or both) the A4L Community or Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC).  It now provides us with a strong foundation on which to build additional features as it is directly integrated with our existing membership database and SIF Test Suites.
We are already progressing with the next development phases, which will introduce additional filter options and expand on product information available for SIF Certified products... keep checking back over the next few weeks to see how the marketplace develops!
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or suggestions for future development.



Tags:  2018  A4L  SDPC  SIF certification  Vendor Marketplace 

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Data Privacy Day

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 29, 2018

SDPCData Privacy Day

Since 2008, January 28th is touted as “Data Privacy Day” in the U.S. led by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NSCA).  While this larger effort focuses mostly on consumer information privacy, the Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community, and its Special Interest Group (SIG) the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) are addressing the real world challenges seen by educational data stewards each day in schools across the globe.  So today is a day to celebrate the substantial SDPC successes and recognize there is so much more work to be done!

In 2015 the non-profit SDPC was established to address “tactical” and “on the ground” privacy practitioner needs.  Formed after a year of research, outreach surveys, and one-on-one conversations, the SDPC is made up of schools, regional and state education agencies and marketplace providers identifying common privacy issues and developing solutions that can be put in place at all levels of the education data continuum.

The Consortium polled members to identify their current “pain points” to prioritize the work resulting in three projects currently underway addressing a) contract privacy wording, b) privacy policies and procedures development and c) a secure and simplified application onboarding into a schools digital ecosystem.

Check out the great work of this all volunteer group and how their work can be leveraged by you as a school, regional/state agency or marketplace provider who wants to support the effective and safe management of student data.  Over 4 million students are currently represented in the Consortium – why not yours and your clients?

Find out more about the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) >>


Tags:  2018  data privacy  privacy  SDPC 

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A Technical Architects Guide to the SIF 3 Infrastructure: Modernized Security

Posted By Penny Murray, Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Updated: Friday, October 20, 2017

A Technical Architects Guide to the SIF 3 Infrastructure: Modernized Security

On the wire: 

  • Internet grade security. 
  • Upgrade ready. 
  • Encrypted payloads, a reality.


At authentication:

  • Trusted accounts (service or personal).
  • Trusted servers.
  • SSO ready
  • Personal touches service paths and hints at the future.


It should come as no surprise that good Web Services employ Internet Grade Security to keep their communications safe on the wire.  What many people don’t realize is that Internet Grade Security has to keep changing.  From security holes found in the protocols used, to better hardware that can reduce yesterday’s math based security to plain text, the one constant in this consistent requirement is change.

We are here to help!  The SIF 3 Infrastructure has a separate Product Standard and Test Harness.  Respectively, to communicate current Internet Grade Security expectations and help you ensure our software meets them.  For the extra cautious, SIF 3 has been built so it may pass encrypted payloads.  It is great to be part of a community that keeps on top of this.

So while no one is eavesdropping on SIF 3 Infrastructure connections, who is communicating?  For us this is an interesting situation.  In the past we embraced certificates fully.  For verifying server identity this has become the dominant mechanism for establishing trust and we still follow it.  However Clients Certificates have not faired as well.  So while there is nothing preventing their use in SIF 3, we don’t expect them to be the norm.  In fact, we really are not confident of an industry norm in this area anytime soon.  So while the SIF 3 Infrastructure has some built-in ways to authenticate, it also is designed to allow for support of multiple Single Sign On (SSO) solutions.  We are working with at least one identity provider to help make this not only possible but also easy.

Whichever authentication mechanism you choose, they will grant access by data object type.  Additionally, we have a tradition of filtering sensitive fields, which is being bolstered and codified by the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) and Australian (AU) locale.  In the end, all data providers will be able to know and enforce the rules.  We seek to have the most trusted standards for accessing education data.

Good security is built in, not bolted on.

To find out more about the SIF 3 Infrastructure Specification, please go to:

Tags:  2017  Infrastructure  SIF 3  Specificatoin  technical 

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A Technical Architects Guide to the SIF 3 Infrastructure: Reliably Standard

Posted By Penny Murray, Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Updated: Friday, October 6, 2017

A Technical Architects Guide to the SIF 3 Infrastructure: Reliably Standard

  • Pick your tools:
    • UUID
    •  REST
    •  Data Model
    •  Code Generation
  •  Choose your expert:
    • SIF 2 expertise can be hard to find.
    •  Most developers are comfortable with REST APIs.
    • Same tools, two hours instead of two days.

When I came on staff seven years ago, I was introduced to a vision for SIF 3 so obvious I instantly agreed to pursue it and I have ever since.  The idea was simple, instead of inventing things and behaving like an oxymoronic proprietary-standard, we would strive to first use other standards in our work.  The cry propelling us forward became a “standard of standards” and we have followed this mantra in the big things and the small.

Let’s start with something small but more impactful than we could have imagined.  Our attempt to use GUIDs styled after a dominant market player instead of standard UUIDs had gone from convince to pain point.  Rather than picking up a UUID library, developers were trying to meet the requirements on their own.  With solutions that did everything from violate the rules to leak personal identifiable information (PII).  Moving to UUIDs has proven easier for marketplace providers, safer for end users, and more enforceable by the community.  Plus it has given those with challenges keeping data unique, guidance and options to do so.  With out this seemingly small change, our ability to have a successful REST based standard would be compromised from the beginning.

Of course we also seek to be ready to move any data model necessary.  For models that do not use UUIDs like the infrastructure does, we will use the unique identifiers the data model does identify.  For data models that don’t have IDs, we have the option of wrapping the data in a service driven by an infrastructure standard job object.  To get a data model on and off the wire properly we have worked a lot with popular code generation tools and labor to ensure our infrastructure payloads and our data model are defined in XML schema using the venetian blind style and recommend others do as well.  While adhering to standards has yet to fail us, it has had an interesting indirect impact on the adopter.

It is generally agreed that to succeed with SIF 2 you should engage a company (or at least an individual) familiar with the SIF 2 infrastructure.  It turns out there is a lot more people that are familiar with REST, XML, UUID, OAuth, and other standard technologies.  This means there are a lot more people ready to dive into SIF 3 projects.  Once these people are engaged, they have choices.  Just as they can code directly to the data model or leverage code generation tools, they can start with their favorite tools or grab ones already built out to make SIF 3 development even easier.  The bottom line is it is simpler to find experts and they can usually produce solutions faster.

So by seeking and leveraging the usual, you should find the SIF 3 infrastructure a standard of standards.  By building on these standards, you should find it scalable.  Yet our next topic will make keeping true to this formula, significantly harder.

Great SIF 3 developers are out there please let them know it.

To find out more about the SIF 3 Infrastructure Specification, please go to:

Tags:  2017  Infrastructure  SIF 3  Specification  technical 

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A Technical Architects Guide to the SIF 3 Infrastructure: High Performance

Posted By Penny Murray, Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Technical Architects Guide to the SIF 3 Infrastructure: High Performance

  • For everyone:
    •  Clean encapsulation accelerates development and performance by simplifying logic.
    • Support for multiple data objects in the same payload move more data at once in many situations.
    •  Fewer overhead messages increases throughput, especially in high latency environments.
  • Taken to the max:
    • Multiple connections are defined for both synchronous and asynchronous data exchanges.
    • Long polling brings real time responsiveness to new levels.
    • eTag and similar support for multiple object queries help you get only the data that has changed.
    • Same use case 400 times faster.

The rules for web services have changed.  In 2005 it seemed things had matured around SOAP, WSDL, and highly dependable asynchronous message flows wherever they may be needed.  Fast-forward to today and we have REST, API Sandboxes, and the occasional timeout is seen as preferable to an always-delayed response.  The SIF 3 infrastructure both operates in this world and is designed to make the most of it.

First we set out to have clear encapsulation or delineation between where the infrastructure ends and data begins.  Fortunately REST makes this evident with a consistent place for headers and another for the body of data.  The result is accelerated development and a reduction of errors by simplifying logic.  Put another way, it is easier to find the data when it is always in the same place.

Next we considered our rich history bundling data for transport.  We had certainly gone the one object at a time route; while simple, it also proved to limit overall performance.  Our initial attempt at packages didn’t go much better; while performance could be gained our efforts to set limits sometimes resulted in failure.  By the time we designed SIF 3 both capabilities had matured and patters had emerged on how to best handle this situation.  Now pages of responses mirror online search or shopping results and tunable queues do the same thing for events.  Interoperability works best, when both sides coordinate.

Once these things were tightened up we went looking for other inefficiencies and discovered with a little thought we could eliminate many messages from our flow entirely.  Fewer overhead messages increases throughput, especially in high latency situations.  Every trip back and forth counts, with SIF 3 you simply make less.

Now the changes above are fundamental and expected to reach everyone.  However, if you need more performance the SIF 3 infrastructure has options.  From multiple connections for increased throughput to long pulling for closer to real time events, you have options.  Taken together for a well-selected use case in a low latency environment we have seen data flow up to 400 times faster than SIF 2.

It is time to start planning your upgrade:


Tags:  2017  Infrastructure  SIF 3  Specification  technical 

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A Community Developed Blueprint to Modernize and Simplify Information Exchange

Posted By Penny Murray, Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Community Developed Blueprint to Modernize and Simplify Information Exchange

The Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community’s SIF 3 Infrastructure is the latest release of an open standard infrastructure, bringing SIF into the modern era by leveraging a REST based approach to data exchange. The key contribution the SIF 3.x Infrastructure Specification defines, coordinates and standardizes the ways in which multiple RESTful clients can access a RESTful educational service securely, robustly, and in real time.

There are three ground-breaking design advances which satisfy long standing requests from SIF 2.x developers and implementers:

  • Scalability Designed In.
    • From the simplest exchange to the most advanced, SIF 3 design seeks to first do more with less, then do more with more.  The result is an efficient cloud friendly infrastructure.
  •  Start Simple and Build on Your Integration.
    • First, the message broker functionality has been broken up into a set of multiple, separately implementable Infrastructure Services. Second, the SIF 3 architecture makes it possible to construct and deploy SIF-compliant solutions in a ‘Direct Environment’ without utilizing any middleware!
  •  Infrastructure independent of the Data Model.
    • All current data model dependencies have been removed allowing the SIF 3 infrastructure to carry SIF object data from any locale (North America, UK, Australia), or other major data standards, without change.

These changes allow SIF 3 solutions to be deployed in any Education Data Center using the identical technologies that are already present and known to IT personnel.

How Scalable are SIF 3 deployments?

SIF 2 solutions have been deployed in every setting from a single school to an entire State, depending on need.  Performance limits in large deployments during reporting periods were analyzed leading to major performance enhancements for the SIF 3 Infrastructure.

Let’s Focus on the scalability features anyone using the SIF 3 infrastructure will encounter:

  • Fewer Trips:  Every exchange has been scrutinized for messages that can be done without.  The result is whether you are requesting objects or publishing events, efficiency has been maximized.
  •  More Data Per Trip:  From the ability to negotiate pages of data on the fly, to events that convey many similar changes, more data moved per trip means less waiting.

For those requiring even more scalability:

  • Just the Changes:  One scheme that has matured throughout the life of the SIF 3 infrastructure is the ability to request just the desired changes.  This was first done at the object level, and then expanded to collections.  Moving less data overall, means the data you need gets there faster.
  •  Multiple Connections:  While this is available in a few different places within the specification the overall approach and result is consistent.  By having parallel streams of data, more data can be delivered in the same amount of time.


How Does an Integration Grow?

The SIF 3 Infrastructure is an enabler for direct, brokered or hybrid environments to exchange data.

Direct Environment – single source for all data.

o    Connects Data Consumers to Data Providers with no middleware - can be multiple connections.

o    Supports cloud based environments

o    Example: SIS accessed by students via mobile devices OR SLDS seeded by multiple District SIS and accessed by data analytic and reporting applications

 Direct-Environ        Direct_Env


 Brokered Environment – multiple data sources. 

o    Connects Consumers to multiple Providers leveraging existing IT middleware (Enterprise Service Bus (ESB))

o    All ‘direct’ Data Consumers can run in brokered environmentsExternal applications register to provide their data – highly scalable to meet current and future IT requirements

o    Centralized enforcement of site data security and privacy policies – YOU are in control of YOUR data.

Brokered-Environ     Brokered-Env


Hybrid Environment - a combination of environments.

o    In production:  SIF 2 and SIF 3 infrastructures

o    Shown:  direct and brokered





How reliable are SIF 3 Solutions?

Overall system reliability is of course dependent on the quality of the set of applications deployed in a given solution, and the extent to which these applications successfully interact.  The SIF Certification Program provides the primary way to ensure seamless interoperability between SIF-certified components. 

In addition, the SIF 3 architecture enhances robustness in one revolutionary way.  When one system attempts to impact data in its provider, the requester now receives a set of results.  This can be used to prevent applications’ data becoming out of synchronization.



To find out more about the SIF 3 Infrastructure, please review the Specification and supporting documentation:

To review the list of SIF Certified applications on the SIF Certification Registry:


Additional reading:


Download the white paper:  A Community Developed Blueprint to Modernize and Simplify Information Exchange


Tags:  2017  Infrastructure  REST  Scalable  Secure  Simple  Specification  Standard 

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Call for Volunteers!

Posted By Administration, Thursday, August 31, 2017
Updated: Thursday, August 31, 2017

Call for Volunteers

Now the kids are on the way back (or already are back) to school, there are a number of groups looking for additional volunteers to kick-start the new term - could you help? If you are interested in any of the following groups, please go to the group page and 'Join Group' or contact Penny Murray:


  • Marketing: The initial focus for this group will be on ensuring that the Vendor Marketplace (more info) is providing the correct level of value-add for membership. In addition, this group will be looking at several marketing strategies and collateral pieces being prepared for publication. We anticipate calls will start mid-September, so register your interest and join the group today:
  • Data Privacy: This group is currently focussing on 'implementing privacy controls'. Interested? Then join this group today:
  • Identity: Anyone interested in Identity Management should contact us to get involved!
  • Infrastructure: We are always looking for additional international Community Members to add to this group, ensuring that the Infrastructure Specification stays firmly positioned for the global marketplace. Join the group today:


  • Quest for Excellence: The North American Technical Board (NATB) is in the process of launching their “Quest for Excellence” team, focusing on filling in the various gaps present in the SIF 3 data model. We are very happy to announce that MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Data Quality Analyst Glenn King has agreed to head the group. He will bring the perspective of a state considering the move to SIF 3 to the table. We hope that more states along with districts and vendors will want to participate in this work. This is a great opportunity to learn about SIF and data models while contributing domain knowledge to the community. The first call is being scheduled for September 26, so register your interest and join the group today:
  • xPress: If you are interested in xPress, looking to utilize or develop it and would like to participate in this group, please contact us.
  • IEP-SRE: Following up the great work done by TQ which has been included in CEDS v7 and is being developed for the next SIF Data Model Specification (NA) 3.5 release, please contact us if you would like to get involved!


These groups are slightly different from our traditional 'working groups'. Network groups are less formal and endeavour to bring together like minded people for a wider discussion and network opportunities across Communities.

  • Open Source Developers: Interested in Open Source? This group is currently looking at the CEDS NDS Adaptor, but will be moving onto wider topics shortly. Join this group today:
  • End Users Data Integration: We all have to find the best way to integrate data between applications, whether we are using a SIF interface or other. This is the place to contact other data integrators, whether you work for a school district or support on as a consultant or product vendor. The purpose of the group is to share expertise with integration products. We want this to be a product-agnostic site – product vendors are our best integrators; share your tips and tricks, but please don’t advertise on the site. To get involved:
  • Open Strategic Collaboration: The Open Strategic Collaboration Network has been established to provide a forum for A4L Community Members to discuss external standards and consider their inclusion in the SIF Specification. This group is open to all members of the global A4L Community. Join the conversation here:

For more information on how to join a group, please go to:

Tags:  2017  Community  global  volunteer 

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Just The Facts: ‘On The Ground’ SIF Utilization

Posted By Penny Murray, Friday, August 25, 2017
Updated: Friday, August 25, 2017

Just The Facts: 'On the ground' SIF Utilization

The Access 4 Learning Community (A4L), previously the SIF Association, has changed its brand name due to the fact that the majority of its 3,000 members represent schools, regional agencies, and government entities now wear more than just “data manager” job titles.  These practitioners are being asked to oversee, IT, data access, policy development like privacy, educational technology, and even additional operational roles including communications.  These members drove the change in brand to indicate the Community’s broadening mission – Access 4 Learning.

Even with this name change, the A4L Community continues to mature the SIF Specification and Certification Program.   The SIF blueprints continue to contain:

  • The most comprehensive educational data model anywhere
  • A supporting infrastructure differing itself from other standards who do not provide “on the wire support”
  • A mature, 15 year established on the wire testing Certification Program

The evolution of SIF Specification 3.x has ushered in new features and functionalities including:

  • A separation of data model and infrastructure
  • Updated REST-based infrastructure without the required middleware
  • Targeted “bite size” functionality via the xPress API line
  • Additional security controls allowing for increased data privacy control

Even with these facts, some in the educational marketplace attempt to dismiss SIF utilization in the attempts to promote their own work.  To address this misinformation, the A4L Community recently developed and disseminated a brief usage survey which was sent to marketplace providers and LEA/SEA data leaders.  Questions included:

  • Organization / Product(s) Name
  • Which States SIF Enabled Applications/Support are Being Used
  • School Districts, Student and Teacher numbers in Identified States
  • Primary SIF-Enabling Function of Applications/Support
  • Primary Data Function SIF-Enable Application is Being Used in Each State  
  • Is the Application a Provider of Data, Consumer, or Both?

Even with a short timeframe (2 weeks) and low response rate (16 survey responses representing 23 large marketplace products) the impact numbers depict the continued usage and growth of SIF Specification usage.  Without specific school district identification, care was taken to not “double count” applications in use in districts.  This means that confirmed numbers are substantiated and expected to be well under actual values.


Survey Summary results:

  • SIF-Enabled applications are in place and operating in every US state:  This represents over 55 million students/3.9 million teachers
  •  There are at least 12 statewide implementations utilizing SIF interoperability: This represents over 11 million students in 4,100 school districts with 810,000 teachers
  •  Non-statewide implementations utilizing SIF interoperability: This represents over 2.5 million students in 1,000 school districts.



































































































































































 * Yellow indicates statewide implementations
 * Numbers represent “minimal” values without overlapping implementations


Applications in Use

The survey responses indicate that the primary SIF functionality in use in these applications is enabling horizontal data interoperability between applications (83%).  Not surprisingly, a large majority (90%) of SIF implementations utilize the technical blueprints to support more than one data function.




Interoperating Applications

The types of application interoperating via the SIF Specifications vary by locale.  As expected, the student information system (SIS) leads the way as a major application using SIF interoperability (76%).  The survey indicates that the majority of implementations (96%) utilize more than one type of application for data management and movement.




Utilization by State and Functionality

The survey responses depict SIF Specification usage by functionality in states.  These may be statewide (indicated earlier) or in districts.

State Usage


Data Role

The goal of interoperability and the Community’s focus on “enter once and use many times” is highlighted in the data role the applications plays that utilize the SIF Specifications. 

Survey responses indicate that the majority of applications both provide and consume data (68%) between other applications using SIF.  Survey results indicate those administrative oriented applications using SIF Specifications to provide data to other applications (30%) outpaced those applications identified as data consumers (2%).





Even with the low response rate from marketplace providers for this survey, it clearly points out in real and verifiable numbers that the SIF Specification continues to be the most comprehensive and widely utilized technical blueprint for the educational marketplace.  Ideally additional providers will provide their information in subsequent surveys to give even a more accurate depiction of SIF Specification, including the game-changing 3.x Specification, in the marketplace.


Download the white paper: Just The Facts: 'On the Ground' SIF Utilization


Tags:  2016  Just The Facts  Usage Survey  white paper 

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  • SIF Association (dba Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community)

  • PO Box 1024, New Albany, Ohio 43054-1024

  • Phone: +1.202.621.0547