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Last modified: June 01, 2001
Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF)

[June 01, 2001] "The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) is an industry initiative to develop an open specification for ensuring that K-12 instructional and administrative software applications work together more effectively. SIF is not a product, but rather an industry-supported technical blueprint for K-12 software that will enable diverse applications to interact and share data seamlessly; now and in the future... The SIF specification is based on the W3C endorsed standard Extensible Markup Language (XML). It defines common data formats and high-level rules of interaction and architecture, and is not linked to a particular operating system or platform."

[June 28, 2000] A recent announcement from The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) reported on the publication of the XML-based SIF specification for K-12 instructional and administrative data. "The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), an initiative uniting more than 80 software publishers, technology providers and integrators, and schools and school districts, today released its first technical interoperability specifications for K-12 instructional and administrative software. SIF is expected to revolutionize the way information is stored, accessed, updated and transferred -- sharply reducing administrative burdens that take a significant toll on a school's human and financial resources. Most importantly, SIF will aide parents, teachers, students, building administrators, school boards, central administration, and the community at large by sharing data among applications and enabling them to do what they do best. Through the release of SIF Implementation Specification v.1.0, SIF participants are encouraging education technology administrators from schools throughout the nation to consider becoming involved with the initiative as early as possible. The initial specification defines software implementation guidelines that will directly impact infrastructure, student information services, data analysis and reporting, exceptionalities, food services, grade book, human resources, financial management, instructional management, library automation, and transportation. The SIF specification is based on the W3C endorsed standard Extensible Markup Language (XML). It defines common data formats and high-level rules of interaction and architecture, and is not linked to a particular operating system or platform." The specification, including the XML DTD, is available from the Web site. For additional details and references, see the text of the announcement "Information Revolution Coming to a School Near You. Initiative to Streamline Information Flow in Educational Environments Passes Critical Milestone."

[June 27, 2000] "The first technical interoperability specs for K-12 instructional and administrative software was announced today by the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) at the National Education Computer Conference (NECC) in Atlanta, GA. The SIF is an initiative that unites over 80 software publishers, technology providers and integrators, schools and school districts. The aforementioned spec is the SIF Implementation Specification 1.0 and it's designed to ensure that K-12 applications work together. Small and large organizations across the education technology spectrum are working together to make sure that SIF is implemented. For those interested in the technical aspect of it, SIF interoperability is made possible by the following components: Extensible Markup Language (XML), data objects (a common set of XML objects defined under a common set of attributes), a messaging framework, and the aforementioned ZIS (Zone Integration Server). . ." [by Dennis Seller in "NECC: New standard could revolutionize ed software."]

[1999 Description] The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), chiefly through the leadership of Microsoft, is being developed as "a blueprint for educational software interoperability and data access." (SIF) is "an initiative that draws upon the strengths of the leading vendors in the K12 market to enable schools IT professionals to build, manage and upgrade their systems. It has been endorsed by close to 20 leading K12 vendors of student information, library, transportation, food service applications and more. The SIF specification is based on open-standard Extensible Markup Language (XML). It defines common data formats and high-level rules of interaction and architecture, and is not linked to a particular operating system or platform. The key elements of SIF include: (1) XML to define the common data formats, high-level rules, and mechanisms that enable applications to interact independently of the underlying software platform. (2) Implementation guide to explain how to deploy SIF using software architecture based on Windows NT and related technologies. Because SIF is an open process, implementation guides based on multiple platforms are possible. (3) HTTP and TCP/IP to enable communications between software platforms. (4) Compliance criteria and tests to ensure full applications interoperability."

"The Schools Interoperability Framework Deployment of the first pilot sites will begin by the summer of 1999, and the first SIF-based products likely will be available by the spring of 2000. This means IT managers can choose interoperable solutions from these vendors in the near term while laying the foundation for smooth upgrades and complementary solutions tomorrow. SIF builds on the resources you already have, enabling you to take advantage of products from a wide range of vendors that all conform to industry standards."

"As a separate effort, Microsoft is working with software vendors to develop an implementation guide and middleware based on Microsoft Windows NT Server and related technologies which will help vendors take advantage of the standard."

"SIF complements, reinforces and extends other standardization efforts in the K12 arena. For example, SIF incorporates many of the SPEED/ExPRESS specifications. So there's no need to come up with new definitions of common attributes like codes for gender, ethnicity and grades. And SIF will be closely coordinated with EDUCOM's IMS project."

SIF and SPEEDE/EXPRESS: "SPEEDE/EXPRESS is an electronic data interchange (EDI)-based standard for the education industry, which specifies the transaction sets, data segments, and data fields for common transactions that need to occur electronically between schools and districts. These include transactions for student loan requests, student transcript request, etc. The Schools Interoperability Framework fully intends to use as much of the SPEEDE/ExPRESS specifications as possible without reinventing definitions of common attributes like codes for gender, ethnicity, grades, etc. However, the following are some of the things that SIF does differently from SPEEDE/ExPRESS: (1) SPEEDE/ExPRESS definitions are based on traditional EDI represented by fixed transaction sets. Traditional EDI definitions are old technology; they are difficult to modify and costly to implement. The software needed for traditional EDI relies on expensive value-added networks for transporting the EDI messages from one vendor to another. SIF, on the other hand, uses the Extensible Markup Language (XML) to represent the objects and messages that need to be exchanged. XML is a structured, flexible, and popular way of exchanging data. It is a standard endorsed by the World Wide Web Consortium. There is inexpensive software available to process XML messages (including Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and other freeware and shareware). XML data can be transported over the Internet and displayed using thin browser clients. SIF defines finer-grained transactions that relate to the day-to-day operations in a school. For example, it defines messages that: a_ Update all the systems in a school with student demographics information once a new student enrolls. b) Send attendance information to a foodservice system to prevent a student marked absent from eating lunch. c) Send student enrollment status changes (like graduation) to a library system so that a student doesn't check out a library book after graduation. SIF p[thus] rovides a reference implementation for the 'plumbing' that is used by education applications to communicate with one another. It also provides compliance criteria so that an application claiming compliance can be expected to provide a certain level of functionality. . ."


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