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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/

New Release: Forum Guide to Collecting and Using Disaggregated Data on Racial/Ethnic Subgroups

By the National Forum on Education Statistics’ Disaggregation of Racial/Ethnic Subgroups Working Group

Across the nation, our schools serve a diverse student population reflecting a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, interests, identities, and cultures. The more accurately education data reflect the diversity of the student population, the better prepared education practitioners will be to customize instructional and support services to meet those students’ needs.

Local and state members of the National Forum on Education Statistics (the Forum) convened a Data Disaggregation of Racial/Ethnic Subgroups Working Group to identify best practices for disaggregating data on racial/ethnic subgroups. The Forum Guide to Collecting and Using Disaggregated Data on Racial/Ethnic Subgroups is intended to identify some of the overarching benefits and challenges involved in data disaggregation; recommend appropriate practices for disaggregating racial/ethnic data in districts and states; and describe real-world examples of large and small education agencies disaggregating racial/ethnic data successfully. This resource will help state and district staff better understand the process of disaggregating data in the field of education. It can also help agency staff determine whether data disaggregation might be an appropriate analytical tool in their communities, and, if so, how they can successfully institute or advance a data disaggregation project in their agencies.

 

The guide is organized into the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction to Data Disaggregation in Education Agencies explains the purpose of the document; describes the concept of data disaggregation for racial/ethnic subgroups; discusses why the issue is becoming increasingly important in many communities; refers to current U.S. population data; and provides a case study of why this type of data collection can be important and advantageous in a school district.
  • Chapter 2: Strategies for Disaggregating Racial/Ethnic Data Subgroups recommends specific strategies for disaggregating data, including tasks undertaken during the two major phases of the effort: (1) needs assessment and (2) project implementation.
  • Chapter 3: Case Studies offers an in-depth look at how the disaggregation of racial/ethnic subgroup data is already being implemented through a wide range of state and district case studies.

Examples from the case studies and other education agencies are used throughout the document to highlight real-world situations. For instance, readers will learn how Highline (Wash.) Public School District changed the information it gathered on students to support its community’s commitment to equity and how the Springdale (Ark.) School District is using data to better serve its growing population of students from the Marshall Islands.

The recommendations in the resource are not mandates. Districts and states are encouraged to adapt or adopt any recommendations they determine to be useful for their purposes.


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.

Education at a Glance 2016: Situating Education Data in a Global Context

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Putting educational and economic outcomes in the United States within a global context can help researchers, policy makers, and the public understand how individuals in the U.S. compare to their peers internationally.  Education at a Glance, an annual publication produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), provides data on the structure, finances and progress of education systems in the 35 OECD countries, including  the U.S., as well as a number of partner countries. This type of data is important to understand as our students compete in an increasingly global society.

The recently released 2016 edition of the report indicates that the U.S. is above the average on some measures, but there are others presented in the report in which the U.S. lags behind our international peers.

For instance, the share of U.S. adults with a postsecondary education remains above the OECD average. In the U.S., 45 percent of adults, ages 25-64, have at least some postsecondary education, which is 10 percentage points above the OECD average. However, this advantage is shrinking because the postsecondary enrollment in other OECD countries is increasing more rapidly than in the U.S., where enrollment rates have begun to level off.

The United States continues to be a global leader in attracting international students to attend our postsecondary institutions at the postbaccalaureate level. In 2014, international students made up only 3.5 percent of students enrolled in bachelor’s or equivalent programs, compared with 9% in master’s or equivalent programs and 35% in doctoral or equivalent programs. The U.S., along with the United Kingdom and France, attract more than half of master's and doctoral international students worldwide.

In terms of labor market outcomes, gender disparities in earnings are wider in the U.S. than the OECD average. Among adults in the U.S. with postsecondary education, women earn only 68% of what men earn. This gender gap is larger than the gap for all other OECD countries except Brazil, Chile, Israel, Mexico and the Slovak Republic. Similar gaps exist for males and females in the U.S. across all levels of education.

This is just a small slice of the information that can be found in Education at a Glance 2016. You can also find a wealth of other data on topics of perennial interest, such as the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education programs; working conditions of teachers, including time spent in the classroom and salary data; and education finance and per-student expenditures. A relatively new feature is an international comparison for states and other subnational units on key education indicators.

Browse the full report to see how the U.S. compares to other countries on these important education-related topics.

Back to School by the Numbers

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, Institute of Education Sciences

Across the country, hallways and classrooms are full of activity as students head back to school for the 2016–17 academic year. Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compiles some back-to-school facts and figures that give a snapshot of our schools and colleges for the coming year. You can see the full report on the NCES website, but here are a few “by-the-number” highlights. You can also click on the hyperlinks throughout the blog to see additional data on these topics.

The staff of NCES and the Institute of Education Sciences hopes our students, teachers, administrators and families have an outstanding school year!

 

50.4 million

The number of students expected to attend public elementary and secondary schools this year—slightly more than the 2015–16 school year. The racial and ethnic profile of these students will continue to shift, with 24.6 million White students, 7.8 million Black students, 13.3 million Hispanic students, 2.7 million Asian/Pacific Islanders students, 0.5 million  American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 1.5 million students who are two or more races. About 5.2 million students are expected to attend private schools.

 

16.1

The expected number of public school students per teacher in fall 2016. This ratio hasn’t changed much since 2000, when it was 16.0. However, the pupil/teacher ratio is lower in private schools—12.1—and has fallen since 2000, when it was 14.5. 

 

$11,600

This is the projected per-student expenditure in public elementary and secondary schools in 2016–17. Adjusting for inflation, per student expenditures are expected to rise about 1.5 percent over last school year.

 

3.5 million

The number of students expected to graduate from high school this academic year—nearly 3.2 million from public school and more than 310,000 from private schools.

 

20.5 million

This is the number of students expected to attend American colleges and universities this fall—an increase of 5.2 million since fall 2000. About 11.7 million of these students will be female, compared with 8.8 million males. About 13.3 million will attend four-year institutions and 7.2 million will attend two-year institutions.

 

14.5% and 16.5%

These percentages represent college students who were Black and Hispanic, respectively, in 2014. From 2000 to 2014, the percent of college students who were Black rose 2.8 percentage points (from 11.7 percent to 14.5 percent) and the percent of college students who were Hispanic rose 6.6 percentage points (from 9.9 percent to 16.5 percent).

 

$16,188 and $41,970

These are the average annual prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public and private non-profit institutions, respectively, for the 2014–15 academic year. The average annual price at private, for-profit institutions was $23,372. 

 

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.