School Ratings are Steering Parents and Harming Communities Nationwide

There is a defacto public school rating system in the US that ties into the major real estate search portals including Zillow, Redfin, and Homesnap. When searching for a home on these sites, you’ll find the schools assigned to the home and a school rating.

But are these ratings an accurate reflection of school quality?

The Problem with the Today’s School Rating System

Today’s rating system rates Elementary and Middle schools nationwide on three components related to test-scores. Approximately 30% of their rating is straight Test Scores, 40% is an “Equity Score” and 30% is a “Growth Score”.

Test Scores (30%)

Research has shown that the education and income level of child’s parents influences 70-80% of the child’s test scores.

The test score component supports a damaging narrative. Schools where parents have high incomes are the “great”, and schools where parents have lower incomes are “bad”.

Today’s rating system has bias toward schools with higher income parents. This is because it analyzes test scores without the context of parent income.

Equity Score (40%)

According the GreatSchools Methodology “The core of the Equity Rating is the performance of disadvantaged groups at a school”. This score primarily measures the Achievement Gap. Or the gap in test scores between students from lower income families vs higher income families at a school. If there is a big gap, the system downgrades the school under the theory that the school is not doing enough to serve underprivileged students.

While there are many public schools that are finding success in closing the achievement gap, there are a myriad of social factors that contribute to the achievement gap. It is not fair to lay 100% of the responsible that the achievement gap exists solely on our nation’s public schools.

Ironically, the “Equity Score” tends to downgrade schools with the most socio-economic diversity!

Growth Score (30%)

The Growth Score measures test score improvement over time, and it appears to be a step in the right direction. But it’s not nearly enough to overcome the biases that are intrinsic in measuring test score performance and the achievement gap as the primary indicators of school quality.


GreatSchools ratings are a better indicator of relative affluence than how good a school is at teaching kids.

Under GreatSchools rating system, homogenous public schools where parents have high incomes get high ratings, and diverse or global majority schools where parents have diverse or moderate to low incomes get low ratings. Notice that school quality isn’t even part of the equation.

In addition, the ratings don’t consider children with disabilities (CWD). Schools that have higher concentrations of these students get lower scores because these children tend to score lower on the test.

Parents home purchase decisions are being influenced by problematic ratings that do not communicate the powerful connection between parent education/income and standardized test scores.

Entire neighborhoods and cities experience negative economic impacts by today’s ratings, because they steer parents away under the pretense that the schools are “bad” simply because parents have diverse or moderate to low incomes.

SchoolSparrow’s Rating System

Our system evaluates student performance in the context of the school’s population of economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. Our algorithm is a multi-variable regression with input variables describing the demographics of each school, including the % of kids considered economically disadvantaged, and the % of kids that have disabilities.

Our rating algorithm has been validated by a data scientist out of the University of Chicago.

We also publish a diversity rating that describes a school’s racial diversity. Research has shown that kids in diverse environments (if it’s done right) get significant cognitive benefits such as better teamwork and problem solving, more empathy and acceptance of others, and possibly even higher IQ’s. A homogenous school cannot replicate these benefits.

In this way we elevate thousands of high quality schools currently obscured from view. We call these schools Out-Performers. We’ve learned through interviews with staff at these Out-Performing Schools that a common theme for these schools is a strong principal that has developed a safe and inclusive culture with high morale and low teacher turnover. In addition, these schools tend to have at least 3 significant relationships with outside community or philanthropic organizations that provide free services to students.

Students thrive in these environments.

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Our mission is to bring equitable school rankings to all families in the US, so that a home purchase decision can be made with a more balanced view of school quality. Today school rankings are biased towards privileged neighborhoods, and they unfairly discount schools with the socio-economic diversity. We aim to bring equity to school rankings.

You can take action right now to help put an end to discriminatory school rankings. Share this post!


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