Case Study

Visualizing Education Data for the Nation’s Report Card

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a U.S. Department of Education program, assesses students nationwide on reading and math performance. At regular intervals, policymakers, education officials, and journalists await the NAEP results to measure progress and target improvement efforts.

Starting in 2012, Educational Testing Service (ETS) asked Forum One to join its team to design and build more engaging, interactive reports that make it easier to uncover, understand, and engage with the NAEP results. Forum One has completed multiple reports each year under the NAEP program, including new reports for the 2017 mathematics and reading results in April 2018.

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A New Data Visualization Content Strategy

For each report, Forum One works with a large team of stakeholders to identify the key stories in the data and present them in clear and compelling charts, data visualizations, and design treatments. Over the course of our work, it became clear that producing single reports for each data release was not the best solution to showcase the depth and breadth of NAEP data.

The release of the 2017 mathematics and reading results brought an advance in the NAEP product portfolio, moving from one product to two: a highlighted overview of results, and evergreen report card data.

Highlights: Built for Finding Stories

The NAEP results are important, but, as they can be very dense, we focused on presenting a clear and concise presentation of the main stories and notable trends. The result was the “Highlights” product, a summary of the most salient points, ready-made for those seeking this level of understanding. Among the target audiences for this product is media. Within hours, and in some cases minutes, of the 2017 NRC report going live, journalists were able to easily review results and publish stories across national and local media, including front page coverage in US News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

The Highlights product also served as a bridge between the two subject-specific reports. For those needing a summary of the release as a whole, or wanting to understand any cross-subject themes, Highlights readily provides this insight.

Report Cards: An Evergreen Data Source

NAEP sees a large number of common results in each release. Rather than continuing to re-create charts in successive reports —an inefficient process that hindered audiences’ abilities to learn the tools — we crafted the full set of reported data, at the national-, state-, and urban district-level, into an evergreen Report Card product. It provides a collection of packaged charts for those wanting deeper data without a full-blown query.

Next Generation Technology to Power Today’s Reports

Using a hybrid of Marionette.js and React.js, we created custom, interactive data visualizations and animations to illustrate trends in overall scores, score gaps between demographic groups, and overall achievement levels. All reports are designed to be fully accessible, per Section 508 standards, and are responsively designed to the tablet level.

One of the most interesting opportunities with a project that spans over years is keeping the technology up-to-date, and in some cases, swapping out old technology for new. For nearly every report we create, we reanalyze our technology “stack” and take steps to incrementally update as we go, keeping the reports we build on the cutting edge. A great example of this for the 2017 reports was our initial implementation of React.js, which we ultimately plan to have replace Marionette.js as the application framework. We also replaced much of our previous build tooling with Webpack which gives us a better way to “package” the code we send up to the site.

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"We are very impressed with Forum One’s work, especially Forum One’s ability to get going quickly, and its flexibility to adjust to change, when faced with some unexpected turns."

Robert Finnegan, Director of Reporting, ETS