North Carolina school system uses SAS to drive decision making
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is using SAS to transform the way its administrators make decisions. They now have a holistic view of their district's data available when and where they need it in order to make data-driven decisions. In addition, the district is saving time and money by streamlining routine procedures such as reporting student progress ¬– and by building predictive models that give administrators early warning of students at risk for dropping out.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is the fifth-largest system in the state and the 83rd-largest in the nation. The district operates 44 elementary schools, 15 middle schools, 15 high schools and 7 nontraditional schools for a total of 81 schools, approximately 52,500 students and 7,600 employees. The system gains about 500 students a year, so new schools are regularly being opened.
Needed one location for information
Prior to using SAS, the district kept data in more than 22 different databases, some being Excel spreadsheets. There was no one database for students, staff and operations with information provided only in static paper reports. When principals would meet with district administrators to review their school improvement plans, they would have to pull information from multiple resources within their school. They would present their report by frantically flipping through binders, trying to find and make sense of all the data. In the schools, data managers could spend as much as four hours every three weeks preparing student progress reports. When it was time to create reports for the school board, state and federal agencies or grant organizations, district data administrators scrambled to sync information.
The school system chose point-and-click solutions from SAS that do not require programming skills. Betty Weycker, Assistant Superintendent for Technology, said the two factors that sold her on SAS were the data cleansing processes and the ability for administrators to easily use the tool. It is simple for administrators with minimal computer skills to find information.
"SAS allows us to capture our data in one location, one resource, so we can get the information in the hands of our constituents more effectively," Weycker says.
Give leaders self-service reports
Starting with a hodgepodge of disparate data sources and ad hoc processes, Weycker's team used SAS to unify the data across the district to create a reporting portal. Now users have relevant information at their fingertips to make proactive, data-driven decisions.
The portal is now being used by professional learning communities to improve student outcomes and by principals to look for correlations that affect learning. "Our goal was to provide data in a timely and efficient manner, '' Weycker says. "Most of the data was available before we implemented SAS; it was just housed in so many different locations that administrators and teachers were not able to find it. For instance, now it is much easier for a principal to view class averages and enrollments in all courses at any time during the school year. This allows principals to make administrative decisions concerning class loads and teacher effectiveness."
The SAS portal allows users to select and view data in many different ways. For example, Weycker says, "Administrators have access to reports with drill-down capabilities that provide a more granular view of individual student profiles. Student achievement, test score data from grades three to 12, absences and discipline records are at the administrators' fingertips."
Making an impact on student achievement
Another project is to house K-12 assessment data in the SAS data warehouse for monitoring student progress. Teachers will be able to input data on individual students and have the capability of reviewing student and class reports. This data will provide the information to determine patterns of need such as reading assessments consistently showing comprehension problems or math assessments showing weaknesses in spatial understanding.
Among their other successes, the district:
Saved $10,000 on a mass mailing by matching students at the same address and sending one mailing per household, rather than per child.
Freed 80 school data managers from spending four hours every three weeks putting together progress reports.
Provided principals a dashboard that allows them to see a list of teachers who have yet to enter grades in an online "grade book" that students – and their parents – can view to keep tabs on their progress.
Allowed IT administrators to adjust legislatively mandated parameters (such as Adequate Yearly Progress) without time-consuming reprogramming of multiple databases and spreadsheets.
More sophisticated analysis
Now that users can easily get to the information they need when they need it, Weycker's team is able to tackle more sophisticated problems and develop additional SAS resources for administrators. They are currently using SAS Analytics to create a predictive model that would provide counselors and administrators with an early warning of students at risk of dropping out. "Our goal is to identify indicators such as the number of days absent in the first month of school and the number of discipline incidents reported to identify at-risk students and intervene before they become a dropout,'' says Debbie Harman, NCWISE Coordinator for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
"We are not just putting data in the hands of people; we are providing tools and information that will impact student achievement," Weycker says.
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