Tips for Using the NCES Data Analysis System
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the US Department of Education publishes reports on a variety of surveys. In addition to these reports, NCES also provides a Data Analysis System (DAS) that can be used to create custom analyses of the data in these surveys.
The data analysis system (DAS) is an easy-to-use web-based tool for writing and executing data queries. The trick is in crafting the right query and in correctly interpreting the results.
Be careful about hidden assumptions in the variables, especially when those assumptions are relevant to the nature of the analysis:
Read the variable descriptions carefully, especially if they reference another variable for further information. For example, the net cost, effort and need variables in the NPSAS exclude negative values and round up small values to $10. This prevents one from demonstrating that financial aid to higher income students may exceed financial need.
Long-time users of the DAS add or subtract half a point (0.5) to numeric thresholds to test for equality. For example, "< 1000.5" is the equivalent of "<= 1000". The modern DAS includes an "=" checkbox that should have the same effect, but there have occasionally been errors in its implementation.
The weighted sample sizes presented in the DAS reports can themselves be treated as data for analysis, not just the estimates in the report. For example, one can use them to calculate the distribution of recipients as opposed to dollars.
Become a power user of the DAS to save copies of your table parameter files (TPF), making it easier to reproduce results. It's also a good idea to save the data in a spreadsheet, giving it and the TPF similar names.
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