GreatSchools has devised a quick and easy way to compare schools within a state based on test results. You can see how schools rate on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
What the Ratings Mean
GreatSchools Ratings provide a quick overview of how students in a school performed on their state’s standardized test(s) in a particular year. They can be used to compare schools in a particular state. They can’t be used to compare schools in different states because states use different standardized tests.
Overall ratings for the school as well as ratings for grade levels and subgroups of students (where available) are displayed. The ratings are calculated on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest. A “10” means that the group is in the top 10% for test scores when compared to students in the same group statewide. A “1” means that the group is in the bottom 10%.
The Grade-Level Ratings shown are the grades in which the test is given. The different student categories are identified by the state Department of Education. If there are a very small number of students in a particular group in a school (usually fewer than 10), the state doesn’t report test results for that group, so no rating is given.
The ratings for grade levels and categories of students compare the performance of those groups with all students across the state. So for example, if a school has a rating of 10 for English language learners, it means that English language learners at this school are in the top 10% for test results when compared with all students in the state.
You can use the By Category Ratings to compare student groups at the school. For example, if one category receives a rating of 3 and another category receives a rating of 7, this suggests that an achievement gap exists between these categories of students at this school.
Ratings are also calculated for districts and cities. These ratings are calculated by averaging the Overall Ratings, weighted by school enrollment, for all the schools in the district or city. Weighting each school’s Overall Ratings means that schools with more students count more than schools with fewer students. Weighting makes the District and City Ratings more representative of the performance of the entire student population.
How the Ratings Are Calculated
GreatSchools Ratings are based on results from the main standardized test(s) in the state. Typically that will be one test that covers elementary, middle and high schools. In some states where there is a test for elementary and middle schools, and a separate test for high schools, both tests are used. You can find out which tests are used in your state by clicking on “More About GreatSchools Ratings” on the Ratings page on your school profile.
GreatSchools uses one year of test score data (the most current available) to calculate the ratings. To see trend data, click on the Test Scores tab on the school profile.
What to Look For
Look at the overall rating as well as the ratings for grade levels and subgroups. If a school has a high overall rating but a low rating for certain grades or categories of students, ask at your school if special attention is being given to those grades or groups. If a school has a low overall rating, but a high rating for certain grades or groups, it may mean that the school is doing a good job in providing instruction at certain grade levels or to certain groups, or that this particular group has unusually talented students.
To see trends in test score performance over time, check the test scores on your school profile on GreatSchools.org. (In some states where a new test has been implemented, trend data will not be available.) From these charts, you’ll be able to spot if your school is improving or declining year over year.
If your state has its own rating system, such as the Academic Performance Index in California, or the Accountability Ratings in Texas, note that these ratings are not directly comparable to the GreatSchools Ratings. State ratings may include test performance over time, dropout rates and school completion rates, while GreatSchools Ratings only include test results.
What Else to Consider
Keep in mind that test results are only one factor to consider when evaluating a school. You’ll also want to consider the school culture, the safety of the environment, level of parent involvement, availability of enrichment activities such as art and music, school leadership and teacher quality.
Observe what role testing plays at the school. Are the teachers drilling students on old copies of the test or are students engaged in learning that emphasizes achieving state standards and becoming critical thinkers? Are teachers using the test results to identify areas that need improvement or to target support for certain groups of students?
To learn more about how tests can effectively be used as part of the curriculum, see What’s So Bad About Teaching to the Test?