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January 23, 2013

Evolution of the GreatSchools Rating

Samantha_brown_olivieri By Samantha Brown Olivieri, Dir. of Data Strategy


Since its inception back in 2006, the GreatSchools Rating has helped millions of parents evaluate their neighborhood schools, make clear and simple comparisons, and find a great school for their child. In a world of dizzying education data, the GreatSchools Rating offers an easy-to-understand measure of overall test score performance. The value of the rating is its simplicity and scale; the 1-to-10 rating is straightforward, while maintaining methodological integrity and scalability.

However, we know that parents care about more than test scores alone, so we’ve begun to test ways to include multiple measures of school quality in the GreatSchools Rating. Just as a doctor wouldn’t give a patient a clean bill of health based on blood pressure alone, it is important to evaluate various factors of a school’s overall performance. Here are a few concepts we’re beginning to test with an eye toward scaling the innovations that look most promising:

  • Student Academic Growth Over Time. Imagine two schools with similar test scores. When you look more closely, you see that students in school A increased their performance by more than one grade level compared to the prior year, while in school B, student scores were stagnant or in some cases declined from the year before. Without a doubt, different things are going on in the classrooms at those two schools — and parents should have this information when comparing schools. Student growth metrics tell you how much schools contribute to academic improvement of all students regardless of their starting point — which a single year of test scores won’t reveal.
  • Do Students Graduate Ready for College? Test score results can tell you about students’ mastery of academic standards set by the state — but they don’t tell you how well those students are prepared for success in college and beyond. Additional metrics, such as the percent of students taking college entrance exams or advanced placement courses and their performance on those tests, can provide information about how prepared students are for college — an essential factor for parents to consider when choosing a school.
  • School Climate. It’s important not to overlook other aspects of a school’s environment: Does the school cultivate a safe and supportive environment for learning? Are facilities well cared for? Do teachers, students, and parents tend to get along and is there a cohesive school community? So far we’ve gathered insights by analyzing teacher survey results; we’re planning to build on this information by reaching out to GreatSchools’ users and accessing new data through partnerships.

We are also working with states, school districts, charter school groups, and others to acquire additional information about school quality. In addition, we’ve piloted a version of the GreatSchools Rating that includes these new elements in three cities — Milwaukee, Washington, DC, and Indianapolis — and we plan to  expand from there.  So far, feedback has been positive, and we’re excited to continue innovating and creating nuanced ratings that give parents valuable information about schools in communities across the country.

Here are a few examples of the new ratings in action:

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