In fall 2020, we made some big updates to our school ratings. We improved our Equity Rating, a number designed to show how well a school serves all its students. First we added growth data, which measures how much a child learns during the school year, no matter where they started. We also added college readiness data, including things like graduation rates and how students performed on college entrance exams. Finally, we changed how we calculate our Summary Rating. Now, we give the most weight to growth data. We also increased our emphasis on equity data, so that it carries a similar weight as standardized test scores and college readiness information.

What’s behind these changes? Why do we think the new ratings are so much better? A school’s job is to help children learn. Schools should not be judged based on the advantages or disadvantages that students bring with them into the classroom, but on the instruction and experiences they receive once inside the classroom. By focusing on growth data, which measures learning, and equity data, which measures how a school serves all its students, we hope to shine a light on schools that are doing their jobs: helping all students learn and succeed.

That phrase–helping all students learn and succeed–is what is driving our current efforts. For too long society has allowed some children to fall through the cracks of our education system. Unfortunately, the way states and the federal government have assessed schools–through average test scores–has too often side-stepped this reality and blamed the very schools that are serving the most high-need communities. Children with fewer opportunities tend to perform worse on standardized tests than those children with more advantages. Thus, sometimes test scores tell you less about a school’s effectiveness than about the advantages or disadvantages of its students. That said, we do believe standardized test scores still hold value: they remain the only source of widely available information about whether the students at a given school can read and do math at grade level. In our new ratings we still use them, but now we’re limiting their influence.

We believe these changes are a step in the right direction in helping parents understand school quality, but we know they’re not an end. As new kinds of information become available, we look forward to painting a richer picture of what’s going on in each school in the nation. We want to share the information we know parents care about: like how people treat each other, whether teachers get training, or how principals deal with bullying. We recognize that schools are complex, and that the definition of success is as diverse as the millions of parents who visit GreatSchools each year. So with each of your children in our mind’s eye, we will get back to work.

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