Education Guide / Evidence
State education department websites are often the best place to start for K-12 data, including test scores, attendance rates, student-teacher ratios, graduation and dropout rates, discipline rates, demographics, teacher turnover rates, and per pupil spending—usually accessible at the school and district level, with state averages for all data points that provide a point of reference. Even with just basic Excel skills, reporters can begin answering questions about which schools are posting the most intriguing results and where the largest improvements, or drops, have occurred. By comparing two variables that have a well-established relationship, like the percentage of low-income students at a school and that school’s dropout rate, reporters can find “bright spots”—schools that aren’t necessarily top performers, but that are doing better than would be expected.
In addition, some high schools also collect and publish data online that share college-going rates and post- secondary plans of students, while others may share data from benchmark tests or other interim assessments. Many states publish reports that link college attendance and performance back to individual high schools. Federal surveys and datasets, such as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, an achievement test known as the Nation’s Report Card, can also provide useful statistics.
“It can be easier to feel like a story is important if you are exposing problems. It is more challenging, although equally as important, to tell a compelling story about something that’s working. I try to keep my eyes open for those stories, while maintaining a healthy skepticism. Solutions-oriented reporting should in some ways be similar to investigative reporting, with as many data points and sources interrogated as possible.”