Underperforming schools can cast a shadow over the community. Not only do students suffer, but the downstream effects of poor performance can be felt across school funding, teacher retention, morale and the local economy.

When one of the top 20 K-12 school districts in the US received a “C” ranking from its State Department of Education, district officials knew they had to turn things around. The school district, which has more than 130,000 students, embarked on an analytics journey to help predict student and school performance and generate powerful reports with indicators to help educators define strategies, course-correct and improve outcomes. And for that, it chose SAS.

Room for improvement

For a K-12 school district, success is largely measured on school grades, graduation rates and school climate. Often, showing measurable improvements in these areas comes down to a district’s ability to predict, plan and act on insights embedded at the many intersections of test scores, performance, discipline, attendance and staff data.

But getting actionable data in these areas was easier said than done, as the school district relied on cumbersome spreadsheets and manual, time-consuming processes to look for negative trends to address.

There had to be a better way. And there was: predictive analytics and data visualization.

A holistic approach with interactive reports and dashboards

The school district invested in an advanced analytics and reporting platform from SAS. Now instead of pen and paper, the district wields more than 50 data visualizations and 1,000 model variables to measure student performance, predict performance outcomes and run scenarios to see how changes will “move the needle” in each performance category.

With actionable data at their fingertips, administrators now can make fact-based decisions regardless of their roles. Whether it’s a principal monitoring how students in the bottom quartile are performing or a vice principal evaluating which students have been chronically absent, SAS gives officials the information they need quickly and easily.

The reports from SAS have helped tremendously with time. Now when someone comes to a school with data requests, the school has a report that is ready to go.

The district’s Research, Evaluation and Data Department focuses its analytics and reporting efforts in three key areas:

  • Simulating school performance: Predicting what will happen based on statistical models and artificial intelligence (AI), and simulating performance by using intuitive dashboards.
  • Tracking progression and promotion: Zooming in and out from the district to school to student levels, using data to see the big picture. Scorecards incorporate academic performance, scheduling, course grades, attendance and discipline into a single on-demand report that can be used for coaching and parent conferences.
  • Monitoring school climate: Understanding and acting on a school’s policies, procedures and training that influence key climate factors, such as absenteeism, discipline and positive behavior reinforcement.

Each area directly maps to the district’s performance goals.

Graduation rates soar

The graduation tracker has been particularly useful in improving graduation rates. This flagship report, which is available to all administrators across the district, identifies students at risk of not graduating, allowing stakeholders such as graduation coaches to intervene with corrective action.

It can be difficult finding at-risk students when there are thousands to look at. SAS makes it easy, and the strategy is making a profound difference. Since embarking on its analytics journey, the school district has increased its overall graduation rate to a record high of 90.2% in 2019-2020, narrowing the state gap from 6.8 percentage points in 2011-2012 to surpassing the state by 0.2 percentage points. Furthermore, the district’s graduation rates for African American, Hispanic and other subgroups – such as English language learners, low socioeconomic status students, and exceptional student education – exceeded the state graduation rates.

Adapting to constant change amid a global pandemic

Things were humming along nicely for the school district until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. Suddenly, the district was forced to implement distance learning and change its reporting protocols. To ensure continuous learning through lockdowns, the school district launched a virtual learning platform for students and parents. Having made so much progress improving performance prior to the pandemic, the district was determined to prevent students from slipping as their education environment unexpectedly changed.

Using SAS, the team was able to quickly disaggregate performance data for in-person and distance learning. Now, each SAS report shows performance metrics such as discipline, attendance, enrollment, test scores and class size across both learning environments, allowing administrators to take corrective action if needed and deal with new challenges as they arise.

SAS also helps streamline operations in other areas affected by the pandemic. Certain students, for example, are eligible to receive laptops and internet hotspots for distance learning. The district’s team uses SAS to geocode this equipment and track it on a heat map dashboard. This not only helps the district keep tabs on equipment, but also helps it obtain federal funding intended to allocate more hotspots in specific areas.

Future plans with AI

Analytics and reporting have come far in the school district, and more advancements are on the horizon.

The district uses the embedded AI capabilities of SAS to predict how students will perform on various exams. It developed a series of predictive models for each subject, such as algebra and biology.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The school district envisions a future where AI helps it move beyond prediction. By aligning specific students to specific interventions – and then monitoring those interventions for effectiveness – the district can help more students succeed. And as more students fulfill their academic potential, their success will likely have a ripple effect, benefitting their families, teachers and the overarching community.

With analytics and AI, school districts and administrators can empower students for a brighter future.

Learn how SAS is helping education institutions apply sophisticated analytics that can bring about systemic improvements.

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About Author

Jennifer Griess

Sr. Communications Specialist

Everyone has a story, and as a member of the Thought Leadership, Editorial and Content team, Jennifer Griess helps SAS customers share their success stories. As an interviewer, writer and editor, she speaks with companies and organizations around the globe to learn how they use advanced analytics to make better, bolder decisions to move their businesses – and society – forward in a data-driven world.

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