Sources for education data

Where do you go for educational data and what kind of data can you find?


Rebecca Goldin Ph.D.

May 20, 2019

Photo credit: Drew Bloksberg for

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

The NCES is the primary U.S. repository for a wide range of federal and international educational data and analysis.
One of the most important surveys conducted by the NCES is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Launched in 1969, NAEP measures student performance in a range of subjects at grades 4, 8, and 12. The results of these surveys are published as the The Nation’s Report Card
The NAEP assesses reading, math, science, and writing at the national, state and on some local levels. It also assesses national progress in Arts, Civics, Geography, Economics, U.S. History, and Technology and Engineering Literacy. NAEP focusses heavily on public schools, though it also has national data on private school children.
There are multiple pathways to finding NCES data. You can click on these images to go to these pages to explore further.

The NCES website is a gateway to a vast range of educational data.

The Nation’s Report Card summarizes the latest results of the NAEP.

The NAEP assessment page allows you to explore results through subject area.

You can do customizable searches using the NAEP Data Explorer.

Datalab is an online data resources tool hosted by the NCES. It provides access to a wide range of data and includes tools that allow the novice statistical user to play around with the data. You need an account to access this tool, and you can request one online.
This is a site that requires a fair amount of exploration to see how it works. When you see a central “honeycomb” of topics to choose, look for one that indicates “handouts.” These give some overviews of the kind of analyses you can do with Datalab.
There are many educational aspects of these apps, allowing you to describe data using statistical techniques, and to engage in different levels of statistical analysis.

Other sources of education data

Local data is widely available on various county, state, and city websites. Sometimes these data are hosted by organizations that care about a particular topic, and other times the municipality itself will share that data. The kinds of data using include information about test scores, graduate rates, student demographics (race, free and reduced lunch, disability status, English language learner status, etc). Sometimes, you will need to file a Freedom of Information request (FOIA) to get access to this data.

International comparisons

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS—soon, eTIMSS) consists of two international exams; one exam is offered every four years in grades 4, 8 and 9, and the other (most recently conducted in 2015) measures “advanced” math and physics achievement in 12th grade. This can be a way of comparing achievement across different countries. The exam is being converted to an electronic version, which will be called eTIMSS.
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) evaluates sponsors TIMSS with the NEC (see above) and also carries out other studies, such as an evaluation of the comparative computer literacy rates across different countries. The site, like the NEC, contains a huge amount of information and could be explored in depth for material..
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international test sponsored by the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). It evaluates 15-year-old student knowledge in reading, math, and science. Over half a million students in 80 different countries participate in PISA, making it an essential data source for comparing test results. The results of PISA 2018 will be released in December, 2019.

Adult literacy

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) was a nationally-representative survey conducted in 2003 to determine English literacy among those aged 16 and older. The survey was designed to enable direct comparisons with the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS).
NAAL also had two important components: It was also the first such survey to assess the state of health literacy, and it assessed literacy among those in incarcerated in federal and state prisons.
NAAL was superseded by the international Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), a large-scale assessment of adult skills in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in a “technology-rich” environment. The surveys were conducted in 2012, 2014, and 2017 (earliest results for 2017 not available till Fall 2019).
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