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National Center for Education Statistics

Data Visualization: Helping Education Agencies Communicate Data Meaning to Stakeholders

By the National Forum on Education Statistics’ Data Visualization Working Group

Every day, 2.5 quintillion—that’s 17 more zeroes—bytes of data are uploaded to the Internet (IBM 2016).[i] How can people be expected to discern meaning when the volume of available data continues to grow at such a pace?  The short answer is that they can’t—someone needs to highlight the most relevant “take-home” message in the data or no one will see it, understand it, or use it to make decisions. 

Anyone who works in the field of education knows this reality. Federal, state, and local agency staff often struggle to effectively present data to stakeholders in an accessible, accurate, and actionable manner. Although data visualization websites and textbooks are readily available, they are often written for specialists in information architecture or graphic designers. Fortunately, the National Forum on Education Statistics (Forum) has produced the new Forum Guide to Data Visualization: A Resource for Education Agencies, which is customized to meet the specific visualization needs of the education data and research communities. The intended audience is professionals who interpret and communicate data meaning for a wide range of education stakeholders, including practitioners, policymakers, researchers, parents, and the general public.



Building off of expertise in the field of data visualization, the guide presents a host of practices that support four overarching “take-home” principles for data visualization:

  1. Show the data;
  2. Reduce the clutter;
  3. Integrate text and images; and
  4. Portray data meaning accurately and ethically.

Other practical recommendations include:

  • Capitalize on consistency—establish and adhere to common conventions;
  • Avoid presenting figures side by side if the data are not intended to be compared;
  • Consider your design choices beyond default graphing programs;
  • Focus on the take-home message for the target audience;
  • Minimize the use of jargon, acronyms, and technical terms;
  • Choose a font that is easy to read and will reproduce well; and
  • Recognize the importance of color and the benefits of Section 508 Compliance.

Because communicating data effectively is a priority in education agencies, the document also explains how the data visualization process can be implemented throughout an organization. In this way, effective visual communication might become the norm rather than exception in our agencies.  Visit the Forum’s website for more information about this guide, the Forum, and other free resources for the education data community.


About the National Forum on Education Statistics

The work of the National Forum on Education Statistics is a key aspect of the National Cooperative Education Statistics System. The Cooperative System was established to produce and maintain, with the cooperation of the states, comparable and uniform education information and data that are useful for policymaking at the federal, state, and local levels. To assist in meeting this goal, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education, established the Forum to improve the collection, reporting, and use of elementary and secondary education statistics.

The information and opinions published in Forum products do not necessarily represent the policies or views of the U.S. Department of Education, IES, or NCES. For more information about the Forum, please contact Ghedam Bairu


[i] IBM (2016): What is Big Data? Bringing Big Data to the Enterprise. Retrieved November 2016 from https://www-01.ibm.com/software/au/data/bigdata/

A New Guide to Education Data Privacy

By The National Forum on Education Statistics Education Data Privacy Working Group

The expanding use of data and new technologies for classroom instruction hold promise for facilitating learning and better personalizing education for students. However, these changes also heighten the responsibility of schools and education agencies to protect student privacy. The recently released Forum Guide to Education Data Privacy offers recommendations on how to do this.

 Privacy is one of the most important issues in education data policy today. Many states have passed laws that require education agencies to implement strong privacy programs and procedures. State and local education agencies (SEAs and LEAs) are responding to the growing demands for privacy protection, as well as expectations for transparency in how student data are collected, used, and protected. Local and state members of the National Forum on Education Statistics (the Forum) identified a particular need for a resource that would assist SEAs and LEAs in working with school staff to ensure that student data are properly protected. The Forum established an Education Data Privacy Working Group tasked with developing a resource to help education agencies support school staff in responsibly using and sharing student data for instructional and administrative purposes, as well as strengthen agency privacy programs and related professional development efforts. The Forum Guide to Education Data Privacy was released in early July.

Chapter 1 of the guide includes information on

  • federal and state privacy laws;
  • the interrelationships among data governance, data security, and data privacy;
  • roles and responsibilities for protecting privacy at various agency levels; and
  • effective professional development on data privacy and security.

Chapter 2 includes 11 case studies designed to highlight common privacy issues related to the use of student data and presents basic approaches to managing those issues. Topics include

  • using online apps in the classroom;
  • responding to parent and PTA requests for student contact information;
  • using and sharing student data within a school;
  • sharing data among community schools and community-based organizations;
  • using data in presentations and training materials; and
  • using social media.

Each case study includes a scenario that exemplifies the privacy risk, and offers various approaches and action steps that agencies can take to minimize the risk. The information presented in the case studies is based largely on the collective experience of members of the Forum.

The working group collaborated with the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) in the development of the guide. Links to free, helpful PTAC resources are highlighted throughout. 

It is important for education agencies to understand that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to protecting privacy. Each agency needs to consider relevant state and federal laws, state and local school board policies, parental expectations, student instructional needs, and the agency’s available resources when developing privacy guidelines and procedures. It is our hope that the Forum Guide to Education Data Privacy will help agencies develop privacy programs and procedures that fit their particular circumstances.    

 

About the National Forum on Education Statistics

The work of the National Forum on Education Statistics is a key aspect of the National Cooperative Education Statistics System. The Cooperative System was established to produce and maintain, with the cooperation of the states, comparable and uniform education information and data that are useful for policymaking at the federal, state, and local levels. To assist in meeting this goal, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education, established the Forum to improve the collection, reporting, and use of elementary and secondary education statistics. The Forum addresses issues in education data policy, sponsors innovations in data collection and reporting, and provides technical assistance to improve state and local data systems.

Members of the Forum establish working groups to develop best practice guides in data-related areas of interest to federal, state, and local education agencies. They are assisted in this work by NCES, but the content comes from the collective experience of working group members who review all products iteratively throughout the development process. After the working group completes the content and reviews a document a final time, publications are subject to examination by members of the Forum standing committee that sponsors the project. Finally, Forum members (approximately 120 people) review and formally vote to approve all documents prior to publication. NCES provides final review and approval prior to online publication.

The information and opinions published in Forum products do not necessarily represent the policies or views of the U.S. Department of Education, IES, or NCES. For more information about the Forum, please visit nces.ed.gov/forum or contact Ghedam Bairu at Ghedam.bairu@ed.gov.