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Statistical Standards
Statistical Standards Program
Table of Contents
1. Development of Concepts and Methods
2. Planning and Design of Surveys
3. Collection of Data
4. Processing and Editing of Data
5. Analysis of Data / Production of Estimates or Projections

5-1 Statistical Analysis, Inference, and Comparisons
5-2 Variance Estimation
5-3 Rounding
5-4 Tabular and Graphic Presentations of Data

6. Establishment of Review Procedures
7. Dissemination of Data
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Appendix D
Publication information

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PURPOSE: To ensure that tables and graphics displayed in NCES products communicate information accurately, clearly, and efficiently. This will allow the reader to easily and correctly interpret the presentation as a stand-alone display.

KEY TERMS: point estimate, reference year, and survey year.

STANDARD 5-4-1: All tables must be produced in accordance with the "NCES Guidelines for Tabular Presentations" (Appendix C).

STANDARD 5-4-2: Graphics must highlight important points.

STANDARD 5-4-3: All figures (graphs, maps, or charts) must be understandable without reference to the text.

  1. Each figure must have a concise title that identifies the content of the figure and the reference period for the survey.
  2. Each figure must include all notes necessary to convey information not immediately evident from the main graphic, such as notes that define acronyms, explain special terms, or define the underlying population included in the analysis.

    GUIDELINE 5-4-3A: Bar and pie charts should include point estimates for each category displayed.

STANDARD 5-4-4: All figures must be consistent with best practices for graphical display. All figures must adhere to the following:

  1. Omit distracting detail. For example, avoid the use of three-dimensional effects when only two dimensions are displayed.
  2. Be easy to read. For example, all elements (font, lines, labels, symbols, segments, etc.) should be large enough to read with ease in the printed form, easily differentiated, and legible when photocopied or printed in black and White.
  3. Be consistent with and prepared in the same style as other figures in the same publication or product. For example, lettering should be of similar size and font, lines of the same weight, symbols, or legends should be used for the same categories.
  4. Use consistent scales with consistent spacing when presenting similar units of measurement.
  5. With exception of time-series, continuous scales should start with zero or the minimum value of the scale. If used, scale breaks should be clearly visible;
  6. When using time-series data, time intervals should be plotted on a linear scale and actual data points should be labeled.
  7. Include labels for all variables and categories.
  8. Clearly label all axes and include tick marks on axes.
  9. Prepare figures with patterns, screens, or colors selected to print clearly across different media. In addition, all tables and figures must be in compliance with Section 508 standards that require that information on web pages be made "accessible" to people with a wide range of disabilities, including vision and hearing impairments, dexterity problems, color blindness and even rare conditions such as photosensitive epilepsy triggered by rapidly flashing lights. For the full text of the law, see:

STANDARD 5-4-5: All figures must incorporate a complete source note. A complete source note identifies all the sources relevant to the data presented in the figure.

    GUIDELINE 5-4-5A: For figures based on data from one or more reports the Source should cite the report, relevant survey(s) or sub-survey(s), data reference year, file version number, department name, and agency name. In the case of unpublished data, use the month and year of the tabulation or data file. If the data are drawn from multiple years: for one to three years, report each year; for more than three continuous years, use the year span; and for more than three noncontinuous years use "selected years" and the year span. (See Appendix D for list of survey titles.)

    Data from one or more reports:
    Revenues and Expenditures for National Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 1997-98, Common Core of Data (CCD), "National Public Education Financial Survey" (NPEFS), 1997-98, Version 1, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

    Data from unpublished tabulations and a published NCES report:
    SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, previously unpublished tabulations (April 1998); and U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Dropout Rates in the United States. Selected years 1972-97.

    GUIDELINE 5-4-5B: For figures based on data from a compendium report, the source note should cite the compendium report and the original survey or survey report (e.g., 1998 Digest of Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, Fall Enrollment 1997).

    GUIDELINE 5-4-5C: For figures based on unpublished tabulations from surveys that are not the main focus of the report, the source note should indicate the data source followed by "previously unpublished tabulation."

    GUIDELINE 5-4-5D: For figures based on online data tools, the source note should cite the data source and the data tool.

STANDARD 5-4-6: Supporting data for figures must be included in the publication or product. In the case of reports that are extracts that summarize existing publications, supporting data are not required, but summary products must refer to the full report. In the case of short publications (i.e., 15 pages or less), if supporting data are not available in a published report, they must be available on the Web and the publication must refer to the URL. (See Web standards for URL format.)

STANDARD 5-4-7: All tables that should logically sum to either 100 percent, or to a numeric total, must include a notes that states: NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

STANDARD 5-4-8: Figures in the executive summary must be assigned alpha characters consecutively and figures in reports must be assigned numbers. Figures in appendices must be assigned the letter of the appendix and a number suffix (e.g., figures in Appendix A must be labeled A-1, A-2, etc,)

STANDARD 5-4-9: Data for the outlying areas must be excluded from U.S. summary totals, unless separate totals are shown.

STANDARD 5-4-10: When presenting multiple related figures on one page, a summary title must appear at top of the page and each figure must have its own title. When using multiple related figures from one source on the same page, the source note must be provided at the bottom of the page. When using multiple related figures from different sources on the same page, source notes must be provided for each figure. These source notes must follow the guidelines in Standard 5-4-5.


Data Documentation Initiative,

Harris, R. L. (1999). Information Graphic A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference: Visual Tools for Analyzing, Managing and Communicating. New York: Oxford University Press.

OERI Publication Guide. (1999). U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Schmid, C. F. and Schmid, S.E. (1979). Handbook of Graphic Presentation. New York: Wiley.

Tufte, E.R. (1983). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press.

Tufte, E.R. (1997). Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press.