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How Data Quality Brings Recognition and Revenue to South Carolina Department of Education and Their Districts

June 25, 2021 at 10:29 AM

Dan Ralyea often finds himself in a unique position – where most of his contemporaries in state education data analysis look upon his state of South Carolina with envy.

Dating back to the 2016 school year and each year since the South Carolina Department of Education’s Office of Research Data Analysis (where Ralyea is Director) has won numerous top federal Gold and Silver awards from EDFacts for “On-Time Files” and “Common Core of Data Proactive Follow-up.” Gold awards represent 100 percent on-time data submission, and Silver indicates 95 percent or more.

Actually, we’re mostly looked at with jealousy,” Ralyea said about South Carolina’s education data tracking and validation processes.

“Actually, we’re mostly looked at with jealousy,” Ralyea said about South Carolina’s education data tracking and validation processes.

South Carolina uses PowerSchool as its statewide common Student Information System (SIS) – but goes one step further to partner with Level Data – which serves school
district populations totaling nearly 5 million students.

Level Data is a preferred vendor offering data cleaning and validation services that utilize
custom plug-ins to help school districts develop dozens of reports based on a wide variety of student demographics – and get their state data correctly validated the first time. In turn, the Level Data validation process makes sure the State can do the same to the federal level.

“We went from being perpetually late submitting and having to re-submit and do corrections (over and over) – to not only getting it done, but we were also getting it done early and not required to make re-submissions,” Ralyea said. “You get called out (in a good way) when you do it right because it’s not common.”

Ralyea raised the question with the federal government about using federal funds to pay for data quality and validation. The reply he received was: “Utilizing federal funds to support data quality is an appropriate use of your Title dollars.” He has since maximized funding of data validation through various federal programs in order to improve the data quality and speed for federal reporting.

“Utilizing federal funds to support data quality is an appropriate use of your Title dollars.”

Now in 2021, with billions of new federal dollars on the table to try tackling what Covid-19 showed the world about student education inequities, Ralyea explained how his state of South Carolina and others nationwide can benefit and get the maximum amount of federal support.

“One of the main drivers in this new economic recovery plan money (from the feds) is the
ability to de-segregate students by subgroup, and identify how different subgroups are
impacted,” he said. “To utilize a service like Level Data as a connector and have a single point of contact for the SIS, then all of a sudden data quality and data validation – and even modification to the SIS – becomes expedited.

“So, Level Data has done everything from developing plugins for PowerSchool that allowed us to identify broadband access and now, tying it to the (address validation) mapping and the $500 billion expansion money nationwide, and being able to target that through Level Data’s mapping software to identify the poverty status of the groups geographically, has made it pretty close to as easy as possible.”

History Lesson:

Level Data became a vendor of the state of South Carolina before Ralyea came on board in 2015. A large number of individual school districts were already using the service and liked it so much they asked that the State adopt, and pay for it, for every district. Ralyea said it was a fairly easy sell to state leaders when explaining that federal dollars would provide the bulk of the funding to the state level – long before the additional Covid-19 relief funding came along.

Prior to school districts using Level Data’s State Data Validation Suite, each one would often have to fix hundreds or thousands of data entry errors when submitting to the state level. This in turn affected and slowed down state reporting to the federal government.

“Our resubmission for EDFacts Files has fallen to almost none,” Ralyea said. “Our do-overs have dropped way off; they are almost none. And at the district level, they’re in a race to zero, which is a wonderful thing.”

Ralyea said he completely understands that no one at the district level wants to make data entry mistakes. Yet when a school clerk is tackling frequent school-day interruptions like a principal walking by with a request, or a parent coming in to take their kid to the doctor’s office – or worse yet, “when a student throws up on your shoes,” – regaining focus on the task of accurate data entry is severely compromised. And what makes things more concerning is that precision at the data entry level of the process ultimately controls accuracy in funding.

“What the Level Data State Data Validation Suite does is say, ‘this is what’s wrong (with the data entered), and for most of them all you have to do is push the ‘fix’ button – and what is better than that?”

Tom Lang
Written by Tom Lang

Tom Lang has spent more than 3 decades in the field of journalism and marketing, while always having a hand in public education. His father was a school teacher, his mom a school secretary, and his wife teaches high school English and Humanities. On his own, Tom worked his way through college as a school bus driver and today remains closely tied to education as a Board member of FIRST (Robotics) in Michigan. He has worked with high school coaches and athletes for nearly 30 years as a freelance sports writer at the Detroit Free Press, and for more than 10 years as a basketball referee. Bottom line -- help kids grow, learn and create productive futures.

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