For families with children, a good school is often the most important criteria in a home search.
Last week, at Issaquah School District's Monthly PTSA Council Meeting, the super intendent shared some information about www.greatschools.org – a website that many realtors (myself included) recommend to those looking for more information about schools in the area. It gives each school a score out of 10, with a score above 8 generally considered to be very good.
Now it's time to shake it up a bit, and as realtors we have to reeducate ourselves and most importantly our clients. Greatschools.org has recently revamped their scoring criteria and as a result it's drastically altering the scores of many schools. Some of our best schools in the state have seen their ratings plummet, while others who have received low scores for some time, have seen their score sky rockets. Does this mean that the good schools have deteriorated and the poorer schools dramatically improved? Seemingly overnight? Of course not. Life is just not that simple.
Let's take Skyline High School in Sammamish as an example. For many years, it's enjoyed scores of 9 or 10. It's one of the most desirable high schools in the district. And deservedly so. For a long time it's seen some of the highest graduation rates, and academic scores in the state. It's a truly fantastic school. But last week its score dropped from a 9 to a 4. Just like that. Has the bottom dropped out of this school? Did all the good teachers leave and were suddenly replaced by less qualified staff? Of course not. The reality is nothing has changed, except the rating system. This in itself is not a problem. Change is good right? The issue comes arises because the metrics being employed are not necessarily the right metrics (for example Advance Placement Class Participation) and, more concerningly, they are not being applied consistently across all schools.
So, my advice to home buyers is go deeper in your research. Many of school rating websites are private companies, with little or no ties to the public education system. So it's little wonder that their ratings are only skin deep. If you really want to find out about a school, its academic success and its demographic profile, the best resource is the Washington State Report Card. Yes, it's a little (ok a lot) harder to interpret than a score out of 10, but it really is worth the extra effort.
Beyond desk research, I also encourage anyone really wanting to find out about a school to do their own research in the field. Go and tour the school for sure, but go beyond that. Speak to students, speak to parents and ask their opinions of the school. What they like, why they like it. And don't forget to research the PTA. A strong, supportive and financially generous PTA can make a huge difference to a school.