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Education Atlas Data Discussion

The two data sources for the Texas Education Atlas are the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for K-12 school districts and the U.S. Department of Education Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for the higher education institutions. Other than indicators (variables) that we combined for mapping more effectively in particular years, all of the specific definitions for the 197–235 TEA indicators and 184–244 IPEDS indicators are located on the two respective Websites for the years 2004 through 2013 inclusively. The K-12 Snapshot data include each year from 2004 through 2013. The remaining datasets are displayed in three four-year intervals that use the most current information available for 2004, 2008, and 2012. Animating the geospatial data through time is one of the important features of the atlas.

          Types of atlas indicators are academic (e.g. admission, dropout, and graduation rates, standardized test scores, English as Second Language courses, degrees offered), financial (e.g. tax revenue per student, expenditures per student, student costs and fees, faculty and administrator salaries), staff (e.g. full-time equivalences, student-teacher ratios, average age of teachers, teacher turn-over rates), and demographic (e.g. gender, race/ethnicity). The variable data are expressed as totals (absolute) and percentages and rates (ratio). When mapping an indicator with totals, users should click the Options and Appearance button at the lower left of the main screen and check the “Legend: estimate best value distribution” box under the Map tab. This box should be left unchecked for ratio indicators (percentages, rates) to structure visually the data in a more effective way. 

         The number of indicators generally increased through the years. The K-12 School Districts maps include all 1,247 Texas school districts and have the largest number of indicators: 197 for 2004 and 235 for 2008 and 2012. The K-12 Snapshot tab has 56–60 indicators, varying by year selected during 2004–2013, and is a synopsis of the much larger K-12 School Districts dataset. The 59 Community Colleges display 36–58 indicators, depending on the year (2004, 2008, 2012); the 30 Public Universities have 57–95 indicators, varying in the three selected years; and the 38 Private Universities include 91 indicators for each of the three years. Although the number of indicators increased for public universities and community colleges through the years, we tried to keep the indicator names consistent through time.

         We modified many of the indicator names for the K-12 school district data collected from the Texas Education Agency to make them more understandable, eliminating complex or unnecessary specifics. Uniform modification of indicator names also allowed for better continuity through the years. Moreover, to protect student privacy in accordance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the TEA masked some indicator values for school districts with low student counts with the characters of “–”, “.”, “-1.” For the Texas Education Atlas, these characters were changed to reflect No Data class intervals on the maps. Missing data on maps and in the legends for both K-12 school districts and higher education institutions are shown as the color grey.

         K-12 school district standardized test scales changed through the years, and the school district assessment outcomes are, therefore, not directly comparable through the period, 2004
2013. Moreover, the administration of the new assessments overlapped as school districts transitioned to the new assessment. To account for these changes, all indicators displaying the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS, 19912002), Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS, 20032011), and State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR, 2012present) school district test scores are renamed under the Standardized Test indicator mapping tab followed by specific assessments in parentheses. The 2013 SAT test scales likewise changed, and users should be aware of the alteration when comparing school district results in the Graph panel.

        School district demographic indicators before 2012 had four racial/ethnic groups: white, Hispanic, African American, and “other.” In 2012 TEA disaggregated the “other” group to specific categories: Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, and two or more races. Because of small totals for these groups and for consistency through the years, the atlas re-aggregates these categories into an “other” group.

          IPEDS aggregated some community college data at the district or system level. Tarrant County College, San Jacinto College, Alamo Colleges, and Lone Star College System, for example, each have multiple campus locations. However, some of their campuses report data individually, while data for other locations are combined into district aggregated data. 

       The default data ranges (class intervals) are set to quintiles, but users can easily change the data range setting for particular maps for better interpretation of the data displayed. Because the data are discrete samples in time, users should know that interpolations between data points in the Graph panel displays will not be accurate, and the lines produced show direction only.

        Data errors may exist in the Texas Education Atlas maps. Errors may have occurred during the sampling, reporting, and manipulating of each specifically defined data element. The TEA and IPEDS have purified their respective datasets. And, like the U.S. Census, the TEA and IPEDS datasets are the most reliable and inclusive, covering all of Texas. We have worked assiduously to purify the large atlas datasets as well to keep errors as low as possible.