University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Data, Data Everywhere, But What Does It All Mean?

In The View from the OEP on September 12, 2013 at 10:37 am

Updated on Friday, Sept 13th: Thanks to feedback from our ever-diligent readers, we have revised our databases to make them clearer and easier to use. The blog post reflects those changes. Thanks and enjoy!

Last month, we at the Office for Education Policy released our databases of Benchmark and EOC scores for the 2012-13 school year.  Today, we are releasing an update to the district Benchmark and EOC databases that now include a way for you to compare your school district to socioeconomically-similar school districts.

What is this new system?  Following the lead of policymakers in California and Texas who developed similar systems, we have created the District Socioeconomic Index (DSI). The District Socioeconomic Index is a measure of characteristics related to district wealth, including socioeconomic data from the Census and the school district (the range of scores is approximately from 1 to 10). Higher DSI numbers indicate higher-wealth districts, and lower numbers indicate lower-wealth districts. For example, an advantaged district will have a DSI of 6 or above, while a district facing more socioeconomic challenges will have a DSI of 3 or less.

Using the DSI, we created a unique “Similar Districts” group (20 total districts in each group) for each individual district; each district is paired up with the 10 districts with DSI values just above and the 10 with DSI values below the district’s DSI value. The “Similar Districts” group is intended to provide a fair (or at least similar in terms of socioeconomic characteristics) comparison group against which to evaluate a district’s performance.

ASCIscreenThis database allows you to compare a district’s performance to that of its similar districts. The column “Total % Proficient or Advanced” column is the district’s percent proficient or advanced, and the “Similar Districts Average % Prof./Adv” column is the average of the percent proficient or advanced of the district’s “Similar Districts.” In the column “Difference from Similar Districts,” the “Similar Districts Average %Prof./Adv.” figure in the specific subject area is subtracted from the “Total % Proficient or Advanced” for the same subject area in the specific district. If the number in the “Difference from Similar Districts” column is positive, that means that a district is scoring higher than the average of the districts in its Similar Districts group. If the number is negative, the district has a lower percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced than the average of its Similar Districts group.

The district is then given a rating for each subject area of either “Above,” “Average,” or “Below.” Districts with a score that is well above (1 standard deviation or more above) that of the “Similar Districts Average % Prof./Adv.” are given an “Above” rating; those with a score well below (1 standard deviation or more) the mean of the Similar Districts group is given a “Below” rating, and all other districts are given an “Average” rating. If you are interested,  you can find the list of 20 districts your district is being compared to in the tab called “DSI Similar Districts.”

With that, have fun! We hope this information helps to illuminate Arkansas district performance.  If you have any praises or prescriptions for how we can improve what we offer here at the OEP, please send them our way.  Thanks!

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