ABRE PUERTO RICO

Building a tool for tracking school performance in Puerto Rico

Web application design / Data visualization

Objectives

CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT

Deploy a web-based tool and spur users to act - submitting surveys, contacting representatives, and sharing information on social media.

EDUCATION

Empower parents to understand the academic performance of their child’s school relative to other public schools.

USABILITY

Ensure that the web app is simple, highly performant, and available in multiple languages.

 
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Puerto Rico’s island-wide school district is the fourth-largest in the country, with 847 schools (recently down from 1,100, due to school closings) and almost to 400,000 students.

As part of their larger campaign to raise awareness about the state of Puerto Rico’s public school system, open-data nonprofit ABRE Puerto Rico approached us to create an interactive index listing the performance of each of the island’s schools. ABRE created a methodology for ranking school performance, awarding each school an easy-to-understand grade from A through F. The goal of the project, named ABRE Tu Escuela (“Open Your School”), was to create a fast and easy way for parents to look up the score their child’s school received, understand why it received that score, and compare it to the score of nearby schools.

A question ABRE wanted to bring to the public discourse was: why do two schools in the same city – sometimes only blocks away from each other – have such great disparities in student performance?

 
 

Challenges

Internet Accessibility

Puerto Rico suffers frequently from blackouts, and roughly 45% of the population lives below the poverty line. Making matters worse, Hurricane Maria incapacitated 85% of the island’s cell phone towers, and the majority of above-ground telephone and internet cables. To be accessible to the greatest number of potential users, we decided the solution had to take the form of a fast-loading, bilingual (English and Spanish) website optimized for mobile.

Availability of Data

One issue we faced was the lack of availability of consistent data across over a thousand public schools (when we began the project, Puerto Rico had over 1,100 active public schools). Many different indicators were considered by ABRE to rank school, but ultimately the data most consistently available for comparison was standardized test scores. We included a paper specifically outlining ABRE’s methodology and challenges in data collection, in order to give more visibility into how scores were awarded to each school.

Visualizing Performance

Given the amount of information, we reasoned that a filterable, interactive map showing all schools and scores would be a powerful way to quickly communicate the distribution of high- and low- ranked schools, potentially revealing patterns in school performance. The map would serve as tool not just for parents, but also for other visitors to the site, such as school administrators, journalists, advocacy groups, researches and politicians.

 

 

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Approach

Taking the factors listed above into account, we designed a fast-loading website that would get parents to their child’s school’s page quickly and easily.

Once a parent selects their municipality and school, a ‘report card’ is displayed showing the schools performance metrics, leading with the school’s letter grade and rank. More specific information about student performance in various subjects is below, along with a field to sign up for updates about the school and contact information for each school’s director.

We spatially mapped all schools in the dataset using Mapbox GLJS, creating an interactive visualization allowing users to filter by school grade level and performance score. Municipal averages can also be toggled on and off.

The interactive map provides a high-level context for ABRE’s school performance data; by mapping out ~1,100 schools across the island and coloring each according to its score, a complex picture of the distribution of high- and low- performing schools across the island emerges.

Taken together, the portal provides a quick tool for accessing a particular school’s performance data, and a more comprehensive interactive map utility for exploring the larger dataset.

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Results

unique sessions within a month of launch

60,000+

survey submissions by engaged citizens

3,000+

Hours of primetime coverage

Over 25