School testing data are only as good as their analysis, and in South Carolina that analysis varies widely depending on the school district.

A new S.C. Department of Education program will allow districts, schools, teachers and, later this month, the public, to view online data that are presented in a form that makes sense.

A principal will be able to compare her school to others. Teachers can see how their classes stack up school-wide or beyond.

And parents wanting to make wise choices for their children’s education will be able to see how well districts, schools and classroom teachers have done.

A statewide program, in addition to giving educators a broader picture, should also be more cost-efficient and consistent. For those districts without the resources to analyze data adequately, it will fill a need. And those who have staffs to do analysis might be able to cut back.

Perhaps being able to use and understand data will make standardized testing more palatable to parents who worry that it eats up too much class time and energy.

It makes sense that a child will perform better in an environment that suits him. Not every child thrives in a Montessori setting. Some children, but not all, respond well to a military school. One size does not fit all.

The system, called South Carolina Longitudinal Information Center for Education (SLICE) gives parents real information so they can make enlightened decisions.

It gives teachers a tool for tracking a student’s academic history. It gives guidance counselors insights into students at risk of failing.

It also will give selected state organizations and agencies useful data for assessing their effectiveness — BabyNet, S.C. First Steps, the Commission on Higher Education, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Employment and Workforce.

Schools are charged with educating the children who come to them. What happens in schools is shaped by what happens in pre-schools (BabyNet, First Steps) or homes (DSS). Success, or lack of success, in schools has an impact on college programs and admissions (CHE) and the workplace (Employment and Workforce).

State School Superintendent Mick Zais, known as a penny-pincher and often averse to accepting federal dollars, inherited the SLICE project when he assumed office. It was made possible with a 2006 federal grant for $5.8 million and a $14.9 million grant in 2009. The General Assembly also put $2.5 million in this year’s state budget to maintain the program and continue developing it.

SLICE will help teachers, school administrators and state support services put a sharper focus on their work and become more effective. And it will help parents to assess those efforts.