As an alumnus of a Kansas high school, I was interested in researching which factors strongly influence standardized test performance at Kansas mid-size to large (4A-6A) high schools. To conduct this research, I visited several databases—primarily the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) Data Central Database—and collected recent data. Next, I utilized Microsoft Excel to analyze the data through correlations and pivot tables and used Tableau to create data visualizations.
From my data analysis, I found evidence that high school students who are economically disadvantaged also tend to face a disadvantage on standardized tests. The data demonstrates that socioeconomic status is a key indicator of Kansas high school students’ performance on standardized tests, including the Kansas state assessments and the ACT. Below is the data biography for a data story I wrote on this topic for the class JMC 309: Data Storytelling in fall 2022 at the University of Kansas.
(Based on the data lifecycle for “Standardized” test performance reveals an unfair standard: Low-income high school students face a disadvantage on standardized tests, according to recent Kansas data)
The data for my project came from the following sources:
- Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) Data Central database
- National Center for Education Statistics Public Schools database
- Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) 2020-2021 Classification and Enrollments report
- Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s FRED Economic Data database
The data is credible because it comes from established organizations that maintain and report accurate educational and economic information. My main source of data, KSDE Data Central, is a database of educational reports for schools across the state of Kansas, and I used it to find demographic, academic performance, financial and other information about Kansas 4A-6A high schools.
The dataset for this article can be found here. There are 109 rows and 53 columns in the spreadsheet. The rows contain the names of all 4A-6A Kansas high schools, and the columns contain the following information about these schools:
- School size information
- Geographic information
- Demographic information
- Financial information (including school district budgeting information and information related to students’ socioeconomic status)
- Public versus private school status
- ACT scores in 2020 and 2021 (SAT scores are not currently available through the KSDE Data Central database)
- Kansas state assessment scores for the 2020-2021 school year
After cleaning the data by reformatting it, my transformations included creating columns for per-student expenditures, which involved formulas that divided total school district expenditures in specific categories by the number of students in each corresponding school district. I also created a column that calculated the mean of each school’s average ACT score in 2020 and average ACT score in 2021 for the purpose of finding a better representation of average ACT scores for the 2020-2021 school year. Finally, I created columns for each of the three Kansas high school state assessment subject categories (English and Language Arts or ELA, math and science) that included the total percentage of students from each school that had a level 3 or level 4 score in spring 2021 in the subject category; to complete my transformation of the state assessment score data, I created a column that contained an average across the three subject categories.
I focused on pivot tables and correlations for my analysis, creating them for as many relevant variables as I could identify. Ultimately, the most interesting insights came from the correlations between economic disadvantage and ACT/state assessment scores, and between free or reduced lunch eligibility and ACT/state assessment scores, as well as the pivot tables relating Title I status to ACT/state assessment scores. I also used filtering to limit the data to only public schools when looking at certain variables for which private schools provided limited or no public information, and I used sorting and comparing as part of my general analysis.
The key insight from the data is that high school students’ socioeconomic status is a key indicator of how these students will perform on standardized tests such as the ACT and the Kansas state assessments, which is supported by the following group insights that are explored in greater detail through individual insights and visualizations within the data story:
- Kansas 4A-6A high schools with more students that are economically disadvantaged tend to have lower ACT and state assessment scores.
- Kansas 4A-6A high schools with more students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch based on their families’ socioeconomic status tend to have lower ACT and state assessment scores.
- Overall, 4A-6A Kansas high schools with a Title I designation have, on average, lower ACT and state assessment scores compared to schools without such a designation.
Data Story (Words and Visuals)
My final data story can be found here. It includes 27 paragraphs that describe how my dataset shows that, overwhelmingly, the factors with the greatest impact on standardized test performance in Kansas 4A-6A high schools are those related to students’ socioeconomic status. The data story also includes quotes from interviews with Anna Wiksten, a college student who previously attended a Kansas high school, and Kate Thornton, the current principal at Chapman High School. The visualizations for this data story were created with Tableau.