Expanded rating system helps California parents understand how schools are doing

Credit: ideabug / iStockGreatSchools ratings help parents understand school data.Credit: ideabug / iStockGreatSchools ratings help parents understand school data.California is the first state in the nation to get enhanced school ratings from GreatSchools, an Oakland-based nonprofit.
The improved ratings now include course access, student progress and equity — which are intended to help parents choose schools, advocate to improve them and support their children’s education.
RelatedAnother school rating system, more data on racial, ethnic disparitiesThose measures are in addition to test scores and other data that was previously included in school profiles on the group’s website.
“We believe schools must serve the needs of every child, in every community, and we know that parents play an enormous role in ensuring this happens,” said Matthew Nelson, president of GreatSchools. “We hope our new rating system and school profiles will further enable parents to be strong advocates for their children — and all children in their communities — to help all kids have a shot at success.”
The ratings include many of the same indicators included in the California School Dashboard, which the state unveiled earlier this year, including standardized test scores and breakdowns of data by race and ethnicity.
Courtesy of GreatSchoolsExample of GreatSchools High School profile.After identifying a school’s strengths and weaknesses, parents can find tips for discussing these issues with educators on the site. Other resources for parents of students in grades preschool through high school are also available, such as news articles, videos, newsletters aimed at specific grade levels, and interactive tools related to children’s academic and social-emotional development.
“GreatSchools’ valuable information can equip parents to not only support their own children, but also have a seat at the table when it comes to improving their schools and communities,” said Sierra Jenkins, vice president of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Innovate Public Schools nonprofit.
San Francisco parent Lee Hsu said he uses the ratings to compare the educational opportunities his son is getting to those of other students at his school, such as access to advanced courses.
“The GreatSchools ratings and profiles help me understand that — and how I can help both my son and his school be successful,” he said.
By early November, GreatSchools expects to launch ratings for schools in the other 49 states and the District of Columbia, said spokeswoman Carrie Goux.
“We don’t rank schools,” she said, noting that the GreatSchools system assigns numbers from a low of 1 to a high of 10 in several different categories, based on data provided by individual states.
The company has been refining its rating system for the past 18 years, after starting off as a Silicon Valley school finder, Goux said. The requirement for new accountability metrics in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is expected to provide new data that will be added in the future.
“We’ve done a lot of user testing and we get constant feedback from parents who find it valuable to look beyond test scores to have this nuanced view of a school,” Goux said. “People appreciate that because a school is multifaceted and there’s a lot going on behind the doors when your child walks into it.”
The organization also partners with realtors to offer information about housing around schools, Goux said.
“When you’re making a big life decision — like where you’re going to move — one of the biggest considerations is which school to choose,” she said. “I recently moved and I was a power user.”
GreatSchools plans to incorporate new 2017 standardized test scores — expected to be released by California in the next few weeks — into its profiles as soon as possible, she said, adding that it will likely take at least two weeks to update the site.

We’re rolling out a new rating system for all public schools in California today. Explore a CA school here: https://t.co/bmEGDQzHt4 pic.twitter.com/cJJUd8kDFc
— GreatSchools (@GreatSchools) September 21, 2017

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