Panel Paper: Presenting School Information to Parents: Analysis of Design Principles for School Shopping Websites

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Water Tower (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ira Nichols-Barrer and Steven Glazerman, Mathematica Policy Research

Choosing a school can be daunting for students and their families, especially for those with low income or other disadvantages (Teske et al. 2006). As school choice and open enrollment become increasingly common, many parents look to states, districts, and education organizations for help sorting through their options. The creators of school choice guides confront an extraordinary number of decisions about what information to present about schools and how to present that information. Their decisions can determine how (and whether) parents use school choice guides to inform their decision-making—and what types of schools parents choose.

This paper discusses the methods, results, and implications of a Bayesian factorial experiment that tested how different formulations of school profiles affect parents’ understanding of the information provided, satisfaction with that information, perceived ease of use, and eventual school choices. To examine these questions, we constructed hypothetical school profiles and then experimentally manipulated with their contents, before presenting the profiles to an online sample of 3,500 low-income parents. Specifically, we created 72 variations of school profiles using a 3x2x2x3x2 factorial experiment with the following factors (and corresponding factor levels):

• Information format (numbers only, numbers and graphs, or numbers and icons)

• Information source (district only or district and parent ratings)

• Availability of a reference point (district average shown or no district average shown)

• Amount of information (low information, high information, or progressively disclosed information that enabled users to click to expand the displays)

• Default sort order (sorted by distance from home or sorted by academic performance)

Each participant completed a baseline survey and was randomly assigned to see school profiles corresponding to one of the 72 treatment arms. All participants then completed the same tasks (e.g., ranking schools) and follow-up survey items.

This paper presents results from the experiment. We show how the design manipulations above affected parents’ understanding (based on factual questions about schools), satisfaction, perceptions of the ease of use of the information, and school rankings (i.e., which school characteristics guided their choices).

We will publish the study’s results for two audiences in two formats: a practice guide for designers of school choice information displays and a journal article for a research audience. The practice guide will emphasize insights on design choices that can enhance the understandability and usability of school displays and nudge families toward socially desirable outcomes. The journal article will place greater emphasis on the ways that the design features of the displays nudged parents toward choosing different types of schools and the underlying mechanisms that were likely responsible for those nudges.


Teske, Paul, and Mark Schneider. “What Research Can Tell Policymakers about School Choice.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 20, no. 4, 2001, pp. 609–631.