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Smart data exploration advances K-12 public education programs

The South Carolina Department of Education depends on SAS® to analyze data and properly fund and serve its school districts

School administrators want the best for each student. That involves finding the programs that will produce the best outcomes. Fortunately, in modern education systems, decision makers have a host of data on students, programs and services. By applying analytics and visualizations to that data, administrators can plan more effectively for future needs – and ultimately put students in a position to succeed.

Daniel Ralyea, Director of the Office of Research and Data Analysis at the South Carolina Department of Education, works with a broad network of decision makers to make the most of his state’s educational data. With nearly 750,000 K-12 students in the system, trying to deliver the best results for these students requires a strong team that can discover, share and make decisions from available data.

Once we began using SAS to analyze the true student count, we were able to reallocate a couple million dollars’ worth of funds that weren’t being distributed in the way that we intended. Daniel Ralyea Director of the Office of Research and Data Analysis

“We deal with large volumes of information that pertain to lots of people – 50,000 teachers, 4,000 administrators and 300 policymakers,” Ralyea says. “We need accurate data and the ability to change it to an easily consumable format – something that helps people make smart decisions in a quick timeframe.”

To make decisions easier, the SC DOE turned to SAS to provide better access to data that administrators can query and filter to find new ways of doing things. SAS allows the school system to:

  • Deliver information across different departments.
  • Validate information from 86 school districts.
  • Help administrators clarify reports.
  • Convert data into interactive reports that allow people to easily consume large amounts of information.

“Ultimately, SAS is really about communication for us,” Ralyea says.

Properly allocating funding and services

The SC DOE controls the flow of funds from the legislature to the districts. It’s imperative that the SC DOE properly tracks each student’s information – such as physical residence – so the districts are properly supported.

One of the big applications Ralyea does at the Department of Education is around accountability. “There’s a fixed pot of money, so the more claims you have against it, the fewer shares everybody receives,” Ralyea explains. “It’s very important that when we validate information coming to us that we identify each student uniquely to ensure that our districts aren’t underfunded or overfunded.”

To do this, the SC DOE tracks the amount of time a student is enrolled in a particular district, validating that the services offered for each student are allocated appropriately. Services could include vocational training or special education in the areas of speech and vision. “One of the most recent uses is checking our pre-K enrollment and making sure that the students were qualified for the services that they were receiving and that the money followed the students,” Ralyea says.

Before using SAS, this was easier said than done. “Previously, we were communicating with districts by distributing a spreadsheet, allowing them to fill out the information and then email it back to us without any way of really validating the data,” Ralyea says. “There was a lack of governance. We didn’t have a well-defined communication system, and it was possible for people to answer questions incorrectly.”

After the department transitioned from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to SAS, it saw immediate improvements. The predictive analytics enables the SC DOE to assess possible outcomes and make smarter, data-driven decisions. Users can quickly and easily explore the data, interact with it and collaborate on insights.

The SC DOE made some interesting discoveries – including one that led to significant savings. “Once we began using SAS to analyze the true student count, we were able to reallocate a couple million dollars’ worth of funds that weren’t being distributed in the way that we intended,” Ralyea says.

The SC DOE has also improved the overall responsiveness of the reporting framework – and the quality of the data in its exchanges with the school districts and state agencies. “We collect data and turn it into a coherent data set, and then we distribute it to the program offices that provide services to students,” Ralyea explains. “Because we have higher-quality data that we can cycle through much faster than before, services get delivered in a more appropriate way.”

Tailoring data to different stakeholders, increasing collaboration

Another benefit of SAS is that it allows the Office of Research and Data Analysis to tailor data to particular audiences. For instance, the graphics and information that Ralyea might share with a policymaker are different than the raw data that’s exchanged back and forth with a school district.

Ralyea is excited to see a transformation in the way data is accessed and used. “I see program offices that previously had no interest in data now actively engaging with data, and I see managers and directors now hiring data people to engage with the data that we’re providing them,” he says. “I’m there to define and build an enterprise system, and now I’m seeing it being used with different program offices engaging with data that they just weren’t consuming before.”

This shift in mindset – and a greater acceptance of using data – is strengthening the relationships between the SC DOE and the individual school districts. “We now have a partnership environment with data,” Ralyea explains. “I’m able to help support school districts by delivering information in a timely way, and the districts are able to respond and improve the process of education in South Carolina based on that information.”

South Carolina Department of Education logo

Challenge

  • Ensure that school districts are funded accurately.
  • Convert data into reports that different stakeholders can
    easily consume.
  • Move away from inconsistent, error-prone spreadsheets.
  • Validate information from 86 school districts.

Solution

Benefits

  • Unreliable spreadsheets have been replaced by interactive, customized reports.
    • A culture of analytics emerged, with more offices and administrators engaging with data to improve education processes.
      • Students are uniquely identified to ensure that school districts have the proper funds and services.
      The results illustrated in this article are specific to the particular situations, business models, data input, and computing environments described herein. Each SAS customer’s experience is unique based on business and technical variables and all statements must be considered non-typical. Actual savings, results, and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. SAS does not guarantee or represent that every customer will achieve similar results. The only warranties for SAS products and services are those that are set forth in the express warranty statements in the written agreement for such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. Customers have shared their successes with SAS as part of an agreed-upon contractual exchange or project success summarization following a successful implementation of SAS software. Brand and product names are trademarks of their respective companies.

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