A New Report Card

A New Report Card

We reviewed the current design of the Nation’s Report Card to provide concepts for a next generation reporting service; focused on the communication of assessment results, and based on the needs of specific users and the questions they need answered.

Our concepts illustrate how the Nation’s Report Card might evolve according to the following goals:

  • Increase ease of use
  • Increase the amount of information available
  • Increase the relevance of reporting for targeted audiences

 Start Here: Information for Parents

Currently, visitors navigate to a parent page where redirection to a one-size-fits-all report requires considerable digging for information. The information is there – but it may take 7 to 10 clicks to reveal it. We suggest making it easier for parents to get their top questions answered. One way to accomplish this is by generating sets of reports that are pre-configured to explain what most parents want to know.

In this scenario, the web page might start with an explanation of what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is and why it is important to the user‘s child. Following this background information, (instead of providing links to reports or data tools) we recommend presenting the top three answers that most parents are looking for. Each of these answers could be addressed through a set of three pre-configured reports:

  • A summary table (listing)
  • Interactive graphic (heat map, etc.)
  • Charts/Graphs

These alternative visualizations could provide parents with a choice so that they may consider the topic in a way that best fits how they approach data and acquire understanding. In many cases, the pre-configured reports could be prepared using existing reporting tools. Our recommendation is to simplify the experience by circumventing the chore of defining appropriate parameters. Ideally, the report user shouldn’t have to learn special nomenclature. Rather, they should be able to focus on understanding data relationships.

Leveraging Visual Skills Through Innovative Data Presentations

Incorporating  data visualization techniques based on studies of perception and neuroscience is another attractive approach to support easy and fast communication of data relationships. Utilizing the principles of positioning, contrast, scale, symmetry, animated transitions, and responsive interaction, data may be expressed in a context that encourages interaction and feels intuitive and compatible with the user’s preferred learning style. Many people find that when a physical component to the display is offered, the hands-on experience  (where data is manipulated in a visual space) results in a feeling of engagement, involvement, and satisfaction in the learning activity. Today‘s tablet and touch technologies present a plethora of visualization techniques that allow users to engage their data and deliver more meaning and deeper connections.

The Circle Graph

The following example demonstrates a conceptual exploration focused on comparing scores among various reporting jurisdictions that are of interest to a user.

Jusrisdictions – states, regions, municipal districts, the Nation as a whole – are arrayed in a circle (1). Following simple screen guidance, the first step (1) is to indicate a Subject, Category, Year, and Grade level context.

As soon as the context is defined, achievement levels for each jurisdiction are immediately displayed in the form of a stacked column graph, arranged around the circle in association with the jurisdictions (2).

To select a single jurisdiction, one of the labels is selected (3). The selected location is highlighted. Every other jurisdiction in the display takes on a visual aspect that signifies whether the scores for that jurisdiction are higher, about the same as, or are lower than the one selected.

Selecting a jurisdiction also generates a set of selected metrics in the left column.

The form for this visualization has some advantages over a typical map-based display because jurisdictions that are not as large as states (metropolitan areas) or that have no location characteristic (ethnic groups) can be readily considered and compared.

Test Questions

Another concept exploration, “Test Questions” presents sample test items in the center of the page. The idea is to provide rich context to accompany the sample questions and concurrently support the use of the questions for study and test practice.

Information on the rubric, the Common Core Standard that the item is designed to assess, and other resources associated with the item are accessible via tabs above the item display.  In the flanking column left, more general information about the standards is given. In the flanking column right, information is displayed about performance on this item at State and National levels

The answer to the item is hidden at first view. When used for review or study, the answer can be revealed by clicking the “Show Answer Button” at the bottom of the item display.  A series of items may be reviewed in quick succession by clicking the “Next” and “Previous” tabs to the left and right of the item.

The Infographic

The “Infographic” concept shares some similarity with “Test Questions” in that the main data report area is centered horizontally with contextual information to the sides. The intention with this design is to suggest a poster – and even more than that, to suggest that the viewer might be looking at this poster standing next to an expert or personal guide, engaged in conversation. It’s an informal arrangement, aesthetically different and more friendly than a typical spreadsheet-like table or matrix.

Typography, images, and color add visual interest. Word ‘balloons’ help to highlight interesting aspects of the data. Interactive graphs contribute opportunities for interaction.

The formats for various ‘annotations’ suggest something about the nature or subject of the annotation. For example, in this sketch the yellow notes are about technical and statistical techniques and concepts that underpin the assessments. These notes provide a branch in the road, giving the viewer the option to investigate further or ignore.

The Home Run

“Home Run” focuses on enabling comparisons between States or Subjects with a minimum of page-to-page navigation. The rising “river” of line graphs at the top of the report react to user interaction in such a way that a line for each state is visually highlighted as the cursor travels across the graphic display. This effect is known as ‘brushing’.

As the line graph for a State is brushed, the corresponding State in the lower map is immediately highlighted, the ‘Ethnicity as a % of tested population” graph is updated, the ‘Average score differential’ graph is updated, and the achievement percentage segments bar is updated. Alternatively, if a State is selected directly on the lower map, the associated line above is highlighted, and the graphs are updated. These internal relationships are referred to as ‘linking.’  Thus the result is an overall design that falls into the data visualization category of ‘brushing and linking.’

One of the principle advantages of brushing and linking designs is that they lend themselves to extremely fast comparisons. Small movements of the mouse change the graphs so quickly that it is often possible to toggle back and forth to produce an effect like an animation. Differences in magnitude can be seen surprisingly easily, in part because the human visual system is especially sensitive to perception of small movements.


The “Geology” concept upends the traditional rule of thumb that suggests that menus or controls should be small, nested, and tucked away on the side or top. This concept exposes many selection parameters on one flat level.

An advantage of this approach is that the report user does not have to guess at what is contained in any category. For example, “the “Subject” clearly contains educational subjects – but to find out which ones are actually available, a visitor would typically have to click on a drop-down menu or open a different page. Here, all available options are shown at once.

A secondary advantage to ‘de-nested’ options is that visually scanning the list gives the visitor a fairly complete mental mapping of the kinds of data available.

Highlighted options show the current selection set. Tapping or clicking an option that is not highlighted changes the selection to the tapped or clicked element. At the top of the report, the currently highlighted options are repeated in a text list.

The graphs and charts in the top third of the page change depending on the specific combination of options currently selected. In the top center, a graph or diagram depicts a trend, a set of values, or an interesting detail. For some section sets, the ‘center stage’ value or figure might rotate among several alternative data displays.

On the top right, a set of quick-read facts and figures appropriate to the selection set are shown.

Our hope is that, at the very least, the exploration of these report design concepts should encourage a revisiting of the vast range of possibilities available when searching for fresh and innovative ways to engage and inform parents, teachers, and administrators about what students know and can do.