RESEARCH & RESOURCES

CASE STUDY - Fairfax County Public Schools Launches Education Decision Support Library (EDSL)

Commentary by Michael Carver, Business Project Manager, Fairfax County Public Schools

Challenge

The Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) District in Virginia is one of the largest—and most successful—school systems in the United States. In the fall of 2003, the twelfth largest district in the nation welcomed 166,600 students through its doors across 241 elementary, middle, and high schools. Of the district’s graduating seniors, 90 percent will continue to higher education and 95 percent of special education students will receive further learning or job placement within nine months after graduation.

School districts need to enlist smarter strategies to combat shrinking school budgets, fewer resources, and higher ratios of students to teachers. Detailed data from Business Objects software in our decision support system has given us the metrics we need to ensure that each student receives the right course offerings and personal attention for success.
—Michael Carver, Business Project Manager, Fairfax County Public Schools

Although FCPS students continually succeed above state and national averages, the schools strive for 100 percent achievement. This drive for excellence led FCPS to seek newer and better ways to track, understand, and manage student performance mandates such as the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) and the No Child Left Behind Act through the use of technology. School administrators wanted to know exactly who wasn’t achieving and why, how to better allocate resources to meet student needs, and how to simplify everyday tasks such as managing attendance data—while keeping costs within a tight budget.

Approach

FCPS launched what it calls the education decision support library (EDSL) to help administrators, teachers, county executives, and parents make more informed decisions about everything from student skill assessments to resource planning for the upcoming school year. EDSL is an ongoing project designed to:

  • Track student trends, performance, progress, and program effectiveness
  • Understand how student trends impact one another to identify the root cause of issues
  • Manage school resources such as teachers and programs to better meet student needs

EDSL includes an integrated data warehouse that stores information for all aspects of the school system including enrollment, student test scores, grades, disciplinary trends, and special services.

To drill deeper into the information stored in the EDSL data warehouse, FCPS chose Crystal Enterprise™, an infrastructure for data access, reporting, and information delivery. Michael Carver, business project manager at FCPS, explains, “After a year and a half of research, we chose Crystal Enterprise because it is easy to implement and has a familiar interface for non-technical users such as principals and teachers.”

Gary Policastro, EDSL software development manager, adds, “From an IT perspective, Business Objects was the right choice. Without Business Objects, we would have had to double our development staff and delivery time to add the same functionality on our own.”

Results

Carver says faster, easier, and more secure access has helped everyone within the school system become more accountable to the school board. “Depending on the complexity, it used to take hours, days, or weeks to find answers to questions from the school board,” explains Carver. “Now, we have over 240 standard reports at the fingertips of every school employee to answer these questions and assist in decision making. And if we don’t already have a report for a specific query, we can easily piece together the right information.”

Improved access to information has already left a positive impact on the students of FCPS. For example, by drilling deeper into student test scores and demographics, one school in the district discovered that, of the 5 percent of students failing, 85 percent were minorities. The principal and teachers then used the data to determine the best mix of special courses, such as English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), to help failing students.

Educators are now better equipped to plan for the rest of the student population. Before students arrive for the first day of school, administrators and principals have already spent months planning the right combination of education programs such as advanced placement, ESOL, special education, and speech therapy for incoming students.

For example, it was especially difficult for principals to assess the needs of students entering junior high from the elementary schools because there was little measurable data available. Now, principals and administrators refer to reports from Crystal Enterprise to evaluate everything from standard test scores to socio-economic demographics to effectively allocate resources for incoming students. “Most principals weren’t statistics majors in college,” says Pam Latt, principal at Centreville High School. “But Crystal Enterprise makes it easy for us to analyze trends and support our decisions with measurable data.”

Investing in technology has proven to be a wise business decision for FCPS. Administrators and principals now have the data on their desktops to support fundraising and grant-writing efforts. With EDSL, Fairfax County can supply current performance information, which places the school system at the head of the class for complying with the reporting requirements for the No Child Left Behind Act and other performance mandates.

“School districts need to enlist smarter strategies to combat shrinking school budgets, fewer resources, and higher ratios of students to teachers,” notes Carver. “Detailed data from Business Objects software in our decision support system has given us the metrics we need to ensure that each student receives the right course offerings and personal attention for success.”

Industry: K-12 Education
Business Pain
As education budgets shrink and student performance expectations expand, the Fairfax County Public School District needed access to data in its integrated decision support system to better track, understand, and manage student performance across 241 schools, 22,000 employees, and 166,600 students.

Why Business Objects?
With Crystal Enterprise, school employees have fast access to preformatted, easy-to-understand reports on the student population that include:

  • No Child Left Behind Act compliance
  • Enrollment and marks
  • Student test achievement
  • Disciplinary trends
  • Special services
  • Enrollment and demographics

Administrators use these reports to effectively plan and apply resources such as special programs, teachers, and funding where it will make the greatest educational impact on the students in times of government budget reductions.

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