Education Research Case Studies

National Center on Service Obligations (NCSO)

ED, Contract Value: $2,056,045.36

For this contract, Optimal monitored grant recipients and reports findings relating to GPRA measures that speak to the success of this grant program. The NCSO team developed reports and protocols to address GPRA and PART requirements. The project team also developed the website for this project that provides an overview of the grant program and regulations and updates this website annually, similar to the requirements of task 8 for the IFLE contract. Optimal designed and implemented a real-time, secure, ED-accredited web-based data collection tool, automating the data collection, analysis and reporting of Personnel Development Program data through the Service Obligation Tracking System (SOTS). As a result, NCSO staff focuses on the analysis and review of data to supplement reporting efforts for to ED. To combat the volume of scholars and to better facilitate communication among grantees, scholars, and employers, Optimal designed and maintains the SOTS, including its multifaceted features of automated sending of e-mails, tiered access and unique user environments with varied permissions and end-user types, automated reports, and accommodation for GPRA program assessment measurement reporting.

Education Statistics Support Institute Network (ESSIN): Assessment Division Support

ED NCES, Contract Value: $12,737,189.29

Optimal works closely with other ESSIN partner organizations to review NCES products, develop complex methodological frameworks to analyze educational trends, develop robust visualization to illustrate findings, and overall provide policy solutions to relevant stakeholders. Optimal plays a key role in the reporting and dissemination of the Nation’s Report Card and conducts policy relevant analysis on what students know and can do in the nation. Tasks in this project include collecting and standardizing data in different formats and conducting analysis based on the standardized data. For ESSIN, the Analytics team used a customization of the Real-time Framework using Excel VBA code that allowed them to take large volumes of NAEP Data Explorer (NDE) output/data (in Excel)) and transform it into tables and line graphs (as opposed to the ESSIN team having to build hundreds of tables and line graphs).

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Education Strategy Secondary Analysis for Results Tracking (SART)

USAID, Contract Value: $3,353,017

Optimal has been contracted by USAID to design, implement, and operate a secure web portal to collect and track the progress of the $800M annual USAID Education Strategy.  Optimal used ReveloTM to collect data and supporting documentation from 50+ countries and harmonize the data using an embedded ETL module and review and code documentation.  ReveloTM uses embedded algorithms to analyze the data and auto-generate reports using SSRS and D3.  Optimal obtained an authorization to operate (ATO) the FISMA low system from the USAID CIO.  ReveloTM and Optimal also comply with NIST Information Security Continuous Monitoring (ISCM) for Federal Information Systems and Organizations (SP 800-137).

Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPDES) Graduation Rates Validity Study

United States Department of Education, Contract Value: $286,604.45

The study provides a detailed review of graduation rates from the Graduation Rate Survey (GRS) component of the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The review describes conceptual and coverage differences between the graduation rates calculated using the Student Unit Record Systems (SURs) data from three states to those reported in the IPEDS Graduation Rate Survey component. Estimates of bias for the GRS graduation rate statistic will be obtained for each state. To validate the quality of the GRS graduation rate data collected in IPEDS, the team will also use National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) data as it contains comparable graduation rate information. Optimal, with subcontractor Mathematica Policy Research (MPR), has developed an in-depth analysis plan, identified states for participation, and begun analysis using SAS. To identify participating states, Optimal used the NCHEMS survey to rank states based on compatibility between the state’s student unit record systems and the IPEDS GRS. Additionally, the team conducted calls with all states with student unit records in order to gather a further understanding of their capabilities. The analysis focuses on methodology for detecting false positives and false negative records in the SUR data, calculating institutional graduation rates from the SUR data, calculating the relative difference of institutional graduation rates as a percentage of the institutional IPEDS graduation rate for each institution, and descriptive statistics for each state.

Moving High-Performing Teachers to Low-Performing Schools

U.S. Department of Education (Subcontractor to Mathematica, Inc.), Contract Value: $1,250,502

The U.S. Department of Education has contracted Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) and subcontractors The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal) to refine the design, implement, and rigorously evaluate an innovative program to induce high- performing teachers to transfer to low-performing schools. Referred to as the Master Teacher Residency Program (MTRP), the program will identify, screen, recruit, and place participants (“Residents” or “Master Teachers”) in low-performing schools, work closely with principals in those schools, and support the teachers in their new environments. The program will first be introduced in two districts in a two-year pilot: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina and Hillsborough County in Florida. If successful, it will then be implemented in 10 districts, and an evaluation of the program’s impact on student achievement will be conducted. Optimal is currently tasked with the development and implementation of a survey for employers who will verify the employment of Master Teachers as a requirement for the program.

National Charter School Evaluation (Evaluation of the Impact of Charter School Strategies)

Mathematica Policy Research, prime contractor to the Institute for Education Services

Contract Value: $514,732

The purpose of this study is to bolster the evidence on the effects of charter schools.  The study collected and analyzed experimental data to (1) determine the impact of charter schools on student achievement and student and parental satisfaction, and (2) explore the circumstances under which charter schools are most or least likely to succeed. As a subcontractor to Mathematica Policy Research, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal) participated in the recruitment of charter middle schools in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, California, and Arizona for the study sample, and monitored the random assignment process at these schools through site visits. Optimal also led the data-collection task working with state and local education agencies, participating charter schools, public schools, and private schools to obtain participating student records data. Optimal researchers facilitated data requests to state education agencies in Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, Delaware, Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey as well as various school districts in Delaware, California, and Connecticut, and individual public and private schools within those states.

  • WDSPRC:  Montgomery HOC, SFSP, CACFP, JIAC, Ford Foundation

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Assessment of Sponsor Tiering Determination

United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service

Contract Value: $383,573.86

The CACFP provides reimbursements for nutritious meals and snacks served in family day care homes, child care centers, and other participating facilities and programs. Optimal conducted an assessment that provides for 2014 estimates of the number of FDCH misclassified by sponsoring agencies into the wrong tier, and the resulting erroneous payments for meals and snacks reimbursed at the incorrect rate. Optimal collected and analyzed data from State agencies and sponsors. State agencies provided the lists of sponsors and their FDCHs, which was used for the sampling, as well as provided schools’ free or reduced-price (F/RP) percentages for the purpose of determining FDCH’s eligibility. The Sponsors provided lists of their homes for the sampling, detailed meal counts for each sampled homes, and verification documents for the homes that  could not be independently verified by Optimal. The client indicates solid performance but the

CPARS has not been completed.

Evaluation of Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Participant Characteristics

United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service

Contract Value: $1,308,488.00

This study is evaluating the current operations of the USDA’s SFSP. The program supports children’s nutrition through reimbursements to participating institutions for meals meeting USDA dietary guidelines[1] to ensure that children who benefit from the NSLP and the SBP do not experience a nutrition gap during the summer. Optimal is conducting a process evaluation using a mixed methods approach consisting of web surveys and telephone calls to collect data on all 53 States participating in SFSP, as well as large, nationally representative samples of sponsors, and sites, augmented by qualitative data collection via one-on-one interviews with parents/caregivers of SFSP participants and non-participants. The data collection also involved States administrative data on characteristics and program outcomes for the sponsors and sites, and FNS administrative data on SFSP, NSLP, and SBP participation over time. The client indicates solid performance but the CPARS has not been completed.

Healthy Marriage/ Responsible Fatherhood Program

HOC, Contract Value: $201,600.00

Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal) provides support to the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County (HOCMC), Maryland with the rigorous performance measures and data quality assurance of the Healthy Marriage/Responsible Fatherhood program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Through intensive case management, counseling and mentoring, educational workshops and vocational training, the HOCMC Fatherhood Initiative reinforces parenting skills and advance child well-being, while simultaneously empowering fathers and mothers to improve their economic self-sufficiency and successfully address related issues and limitations that may affect father child and/or family relationships. This program is made possible by a multi-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Family Assistance New Pathways for Fathers and Families-Healthy Marriage/Responsible Fatherhood program. Optimal works closely with HOCMC to provide continuous quality improvement to meet the stated goals of the Fatherhood program.

Innovative Economics Support services

Small Business Administration

In accordance with the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Innovative Economies Support Services (IESS) contract, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal) is responsible for fulfilling the following contract objectives:


  • Analyzing seven Innovative Economies (IE) awardees and supporting SBA in identifying best practices for small-business integration and support.
  • Analyzing a total of 20 Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge (JIAC) awardees.
  • Developing a program-evaluation framework and metrics for the JIAC.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the IE and JIAC awardees.
  • Providing technical assistance, business training, and business counseling to the IE and JIAC awardees.
  • Communicating with the IE and JIAC cluster administrators.


Optimal is identifying and evaluating best practices to ensure that the economic clusters can create sustainable job growth, compete on national and global scales, and attract continuing business investment.


Ford Foundation for Low-Skilled Workers

Ford Foundation, Contract Value: $ 200,000

Optimal Solutions Group (Optimal) was awarded a grant by the Ford Foundation’s Economic Development Unit to identify locally-based employment clusters that would be viable options for low-skill workers. Optimal based its research methodology on a recent report by Jobs for the Future (JFF), who attempted to define nationally-relevant job clusters for these low-skilled workers using a model based primarily on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. While JFF’s study produced six potentially viable employment clusters, these clusters were not necessarily good choices throughout the country. Optimal researchers hypothesized that a model tailored to specific metropolitan area conditions (i.e., industrial-occupation mix, labor market conditions) could prove to be more useful to business leaders and policy makers as they seek to identify and build occupational clusters that will provide sustainable, living wage jobs to low-skilled workers.