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Student Email: the Key to Single Sign-On (SSO) for Schools

email is the key to SSO

email is the key to SSOA familiar conversation lately among school IT professionals is about how to move closer to a Single Sign-On (SSO) strategy. Ideally, the goal is to make it as simple as possible for students to get to the content they need without compromising security. A balance needs to be found especially when it comes to students in grades K-2. To find that balance and keep students learning there are several aspects of SSO that need to be considered going forward.

Single Sign-on

The first element that you need to consider is which SSO technology solution you will choose. Many districts that we work with simply use Google as their authoritative source for authentication. This is undoubtedly one of the easiest to use and arguably one of the most reliable. There are many online providers competing to be this source for you. Clever.com is another example of a service provider in the K12 space that offers a solution. When combined with their Clever badges for K-2, this can be very effective. Clever demonstrated in a big way to the entire United States about a month ago what happens with your SSO solution is not available. You cannot authenticate to anything if they are down or their authentication service is not available.


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The next component is the username that you will use for all applications that you want to place under this umbrella. The most popular is to use the student's email address. Sometimes we can even strip the domain name from the email address to get the username. This is a good choice, but there are some challenges with it. Most student information systems do NOT have the student email address in them. We have encountered a few. PowerSchool, InfiniteCampus, and ProgressBook do not, but I believe that Skyward does. Skyward has a way to do it, but it may not handle ties properly if your naming standard isn’t guaranteed to always be unique. To be effective, it must be 100% accurate and always current. There are a number of situations that come up in a student’s career where their username/email address would and should change. The most obvious one would be if a student is adopted and their LastName changes. Some systems deal with this change better than others. Many assume that it will never change and they should not.

Student Information System or SIS

The Student Information System is meant to be the authoritative source for everything related to a student. If it doesn’t have the student email address, the process for connecting and automating interconnected systems breaks down. Student Provisioning Services recognizes this need and is taking major steps to implement this feature. As a matter of fact, we have signed a contract with Software Answers to become a Certified VendorLink Vendor. This will enable SPS to be able to write the student email address back into ProgressBook so that all other applications that pull this data via VendorLink or otherwise will always be able to have accurate and current email address information for every student, every day.

We expect to have this work completed and to start SY18/19 with this in place for all our ProgressBook customers. We are pursuing this same functionality with any SIS that our customers use to offer it to all platforms that our customers use that also support API access to student data.

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