SC launches statewide data tool for educators

jself@thestate.comSeptember 5, 2013 

  • SLICE S.C. Department of Education officials say the new data system will provide a tool for teachers, researchers and the public. About the system:

    • Developed with two federal grants of $5.8 million and $14.9 million

    • Owned and maintained by the state Department of Education

    • The S.C. General Assembly committed $2.5 million in this year’s budget to keep the program going

    • System draws on existing education data only

— The S.C. Department of Education has launched a multi-million-dollar information system that officials say will provide a tool tailoring classroom teaching to student needs.

At more than $20 million to develop, the system is called SLICE, an acronym for South Carolina Longitudinal Information Center for Education.

It draws on several data sources already collected by school districts and reported to the state and federal government.

What has not been available until now “is a way for anyone – a teacher, school principal or the general public – to be able to easily access data and information about public education,” said Paul Butler-Nalin, director of research and data analysis for the state Education Department.

The system takes existing research – much of which can be found in spreadsheets and reports on various state websites – and combines and compares that data to create in-depth profiles of the state’s public education system, school districts, schools, classrooms and individual students.

Educators and teachers are the intended beneficiaries of the system, Butler-Nalin said. They will have access to the system through a simple log-in online.

For example, the system would allow a teacher to chart an individual student’s academic history, he said.

A guidance counselor also would have access to detailed information about students who are at risk of failing.

Some school districts already have the staff expertise to analyze education data in-house for similar purposes, but not all districts do, said state education spokesman Jay Ragley, adding that the tool, maintained by the state, would expand access to basic statistical research to all school districts.

The system also will link to other state agencies, including the Departments of Employment and Workforce, and Social Services, and the Commission on Higher Education, BabyNet and S.C. First Steps, laying the groundwork for those agencies to conduct research.

Dan Wuori, chief program officer with First Steps, said the system will speed up the process of evaluating the effectiveness of programs.

For example, it will make it easier to track the progress of elementary school students who attended a First Steps 4-year-old kindergarten.

More efficiency means fewer costs, he said. The programs are “good for us in terms of focusing our investments and will be good for taxpayers.”

The project was made possible by two federal grants – $5.8 million in 2006 and $14.9 million in 2009.

The General Assembly also put $2.5 million in this year’s state budget to maintain the program and continue developing it.

Education officials are rolling out the system first to school districts. They plan to provide the public some access to the data later this month.

Confidential information – including identifying information for individual students – will be available only to users authorized to have access to that information under state and federal privacy laws, Ragley said.

But all users, including the public, will have access to aggregate information about school districts, schools and the state school system.

The project is coming together as the state continues work on a separate teacher-evaluation program, currently being tested in several school districts, that evaluates teachers based on student progress.

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