Research Specialist, Office of Instruction and Accountability
Ensuring education budgets are well-spent
More informed decisions about curriculum and teaching practices helped the Rock Hill School District meet budget limitations
When school districts in South Carolina faced budget cuts, the Rock Hill School District analyzed data to determine academic needs before making decisions about cuts, thus making informed decisions to solve its budget problems. Rock Hill could make data-driven decisions related to instruction and school attendance because Daniel Ralyea, a research specialist with the Office of Instruction and Accountability, uses SAS® Enterprise Intelligence Suite for Education to report and analyze data.
Ralyea, a former math teacher, is revolutionizing the use of data in Rock Hill to not just weather budget cuts, but identify students for advanced math, standardize teacher training, and look at information across student groups in a way that the state's own mandated student information system can't do.
"There is so much business function available in SAS," says Ralyea. "It's easy to use and saves a tremendous amount time. There are some things I couldn't do if I used spreadsheets or the state's student information system, PowerSchool."
There is so much business function available in SAS. It's easy to use and saves a tremendous amount of time.
From simple reports to complex analysis
Ralyea is a one-person operation for the 17,000-student school district, located 25 miles south of Charlotte, NC. Before using SAS, it took Ralyea a week or more to disaggregate student data for federal reporting categories like race, or eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches. The disaggregation process is necessary for federal reporting, which requires schools to show progress by category of student.
According to Ralyea, "If you wanted to do any disaggregation of students, you had to look up each individual student folder, collect all the information, create a spreadsheet by hand, and then sort the students into groups. It was just a very, very cumbersome process."
This approach left no time to understand how to help struggling students or identify those who need advanced classes. But with SAS it takes only seconds. Now, all this information is fed directly into the district's SAS enterprise data warehouse. The data is then used to populate dashboards and scorecards for administrators and principals throughout the district. It is compatible with the state of South Carolina's student information system (SIS), from which Ralyea only had to create a one-time bridge to bring in an automated feed of new information each night.
It now takes Ralyea just a few seconds to disaggregate test scores, break student groups down by their needs, display information across different schools, compare different schools across the state and within the district, and more. With this time savings, Rock Hill has accomplished many things using SAS:
Discovered its dropout rate was lower than the state report. By cross-matching the names of students whose families said they were transferring to Rock Hill with new enrollees, the district realized that many dropouts that were attributed to Rock Hill were never enrolled in Rock Hill.
Identified students who would benefit from accelerated math (algebra in seventh grade) by analyzing state test data. Ralyea said many of the students identified were not being recommended by teachers.
Empowered teachers with individual reports on student academic performance histories prior to beginning classes. Previously this would not have been known because the teacher would have to manually review individual student files and compile the data. Now teachers start the year with this up-front knowledge and can better use their time to focus on teaching.
Found other school systems in the state with a similar demographic profile. This allows administrators to learn what is working in those districts. The state's crude demographic matching program actually paired Rock Hill, a small city school system, with rural systems – which serve very different populations.
With the SAS solution, Rock Hill is also one of the few districts in compliance with South Carolina's state attendance policy mandating the school contact the family when a student misses a certain number of school days. Most districts rely on the state-mandated SIS, PowerSchool, which according to Ralyea "is not capable of identifying students' attendance patterns." So Rock Hill uses SAS to provide the information and reports necessary to remain in compliance.
Retraining teachers to better judge reading skills
One of Ralyea's most innovative uses of SAS is for the district's reading assessment program. Teachers listen as students read and grade them on fluency, accuracy and comprehension. Since some of those measures are subjective, Rock Hill administrators felt the program wasn't providing an objective indication of a student's ability. Ralyea combed through data to find teachers who consistently over- or underscored students compared to the mean. Now schools pair up teachers who grade outside the mean to both learn from each other and come up with a reading score for a student that is more accurate. "The teachers are also getting some specific retraining, so they are applying the same standards across all students," Ralyea explains.
Helping principals use data to drive decisions
Ralyea's detailed reporting has been popular with principals who were used to getting a much less detailed snapshot of school data before Rock Hill invested in SAS. Along with daily attendance data that can help administrators' flag students at risk of falling behind because of poor attendance, principals can drill down into their school data looking at different groups of students, students by class or by teacher, and those who are economically disadvantaged. This has encouraged principals to more effectively intervene with at-risk students, retrain teachers and encourage teachers to rethink how they are teaching a subject.
Everything Rock Hill does now is guided by data, says Ralyea. "Our staff now asks, 'What is the effectiveness of that program?' It's the new norm."
Rock Hill needed to disaggregate student data to give principals and teachers easy access to information about classes, students and programs to ensure instructional dollars are used effectively.
Rock Hill is able to measure learning results and make informed decisions about curriculum and teaching practices.