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The Use of Data Visualization in Testing Reports

By Brian Bontempo, Ph.D. & Daniel Wilson

Paper to be presented at the 9th Conference of the International Test Commission in San Sebastian, Spain. July 2014.


Score reports are one of the most widely used and most important components of a test. One way to convey score information is through the skilled use of data visualization. Data visualizations are images such as tables and charts that convey information about a dataset. Recent innovations in data visualization suggest that this new technology may benefit the testing industry by making testing information more useable. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the use of data visualization in testing reports.

Based on the data visualization theories of Tufte, Few, and Bontempo, the paper will identify ways in which data visualizations can be used to improve the quality of information contained in testing reports. These will include selecting the appropriate chart type and maximizing the Data/Ink Ratio (Tufte, 1983).

The current use of data visualization in testing will be evaluated by analyzing a sample of examinee score reports and aggregate performance reports provided by the 282 certification testing programs in the US accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The quantity, type, and quality of the visualizations will be documented in addition to the type of certification program (health & wellness, business & finance, manufacturing/construction/trades) providing the reports. The quality of the data visualizations will be analyzed by estimating the Data/Ink Ratio and evaluating the appropriateness of the chart type (Y/N). Descriptive statistics will be calculated overall and by certification program type.

We expect the results will indicate that data visualizations are included in about half of the reports provided by testing programs. We expect that, when included, the quality of the data visualizations is not optimal. In conclusion, this paper will provide guidance on the use of data visualization in testing reports and a good description of the current use of data visualization in testing.