Are School Ratings Accurate? How the Ratings on Real Estate Search Portals Are Harming America’s Neighborhoods and Cities

Are school ratings accurate?

View our more equitable ratings for schools across the nation at this link.

Look for a home today on most major real estate portals, including Zillow, Redfin, and Homesnap, and you will find the public schools assigned to each home, along with school ratings. The third party ratings website which provides these ratings is the non-profit GreatSchools. But are those school ratings accurate?

Most parents believe these school ratings are an indicator of school quality. But the reality is, these school ratings don’t communicate what parents think they are communicating. These ratings are an indicator of the socio-economic status of the parents whose children attend the school. They are not a very good indicator at how effective the school is at teaching and learning. 

This is because student performance on standardized tests significantly influence GreatSchools ratings. But research has shown that test scores are at least 70% attributable to parent income, not school quality. 

Consequently, the ratings you see on today’s real estate websites give high ratings to schools where parents have high incomes. And schools where parents have diverse or moderate to low incomes get low ratings. Notice that school quality and teacher effectiveness are not even part of the equation.

In fact, the school ratings on today’s popular real estate portals obscure the quality of a school and the effectiveness of its teachers.

Today’s School Ratings Support A Damaging Narrative

The school rating system prominent on real estate portals supports a damaging narrative. A narrative that schools where parents have diverse or moderate to low incomes are low quality schools. The problem is, that’s not always true.

So, are the school ratings accurate? The answer is a resounding “NO”. But there is another rating system out there that more truthfully evaluates how a school is impacting student performance. Unfortunately the major real estate search portals are choosing not to display these ratings.

This story by Chalkbeat explains the situation in more detail. 

We have school ratings for most schools across the country, and you can view our ratings at this link.

The Implications for Schools, Neighborhoods, and Cities

Today’s school ratings ignore the powerful connection between test scores and parent’s socioeconomic status. Consequently, the school rating system you find when searching for a home online misrepresents thousands of urban public schools nationwide

Parents are being steered towards homogenous schools where parents have high incomes. Sadly, parents are also overlooking high-quality schools where parents have diverse or moderate to low incomes.

An entire city can have unfairly underrated schools. This negatively impacts the perceived value proposition of a city, and ultimately the home buying decisions of parents. The economic impact on the city is easy to see.

Ratings that Provide More Truth About School Quality

That’s why we’ve created a school rating system, rooted in data science, that accounts for parent income. If you must consider test scores, our ratings hold more truth about how the school itself is impacting student performance. You can read more about our rating system here.

Our rating system is approximated in the graph below. Here we’ve plotted test scores vs parent income for all public schools in Chicagoland. A trendline is applied that represents the average test score for schools at every parent income level. By measuring the extent to which a school is above or below this trendline, we can measure the extent to which the school impacts student performance on standardized tests.

Our ratings recognize individual schools for their exemplary teachers and student support staff. And they recognize entire neighborhoods and cities as desirable destinations for parents searching for a quality education for their children.

Realtors report that parents want a 7/10 rating or better, particularly if they are moving to a new city. If the schools associated with the home they want to buy have a rating under 7, they often dismiss the school and the neighborhood the school serves.

But if those parents consulted SchoolSparrow school ratings, they might actually make different decisions. For example, let’s take a look at Berwyn, Illinois.

Berwyn, Illinois

Berwyn is a suburb of Chicago located south of the affluent suburb of Oak Park.  During rush hour, the drive to the Chicago CBD is roughly 30 minutes, but Berwyn has transit locations with a short 20 minute train ride to downtown Chicago.

The average single-family home value in Oak Park is $491,000. The average single family home value in Berwyn is $282,000. 

GreatSchools rates five out of 13 public schools in Berwyn a 7/10 or above, with an average school rating of 5.8/10 .

But SchoolSparrow’s rating system, which more truthfully evaluates teacher impact on student performance, rates 11 out of the 13 public schools in Berwyn a 7/10 or above, with an average school rating of 7.4/10. 

Let’s take a look at this visually by highlighting Berwyn’s 13 schools in our graph:

Student performance on standardized tests is above average in 11 out of 13 public schools in Berwyn.  

Sidenote: you can check how your Chicagoland city is performing at this link. (Hint: check out Chicago for some surprising results).

According to SchoolSparrow’s model, more than half of Berwyn’s public schools are underrated. And six of the seven underrated schools are elementary schools. 

There are nine public elementary schools in Berwyn. The major real estate search platforms unfairly portray Six of those nine elementary schools. Two thirds of Berwyn’s elementary schools are unfairly underrated. What economic impact is this having on Berwyn?

Let’s take a look at these 6 underrated elementary schools. Note: we’ve added additional commentary about two of these schools, both of which are severely underrated by 4 points or more:

Jefferson Elem School, Berwyn North SD 98

Jefferson earns a 10/10 rating on SchoolSparrow, and is operating in the top 4% of schools in the entire State of Illinois. But all the real estate search portals show a 6/10 rating. Parents, don’t believe this biased rating! 

Our algorithm (which takes into account several variables, including parent income) predicts that schools with demographics similar to Jefferson elementary will average a 27.4 score on the R/LA section of the standardized test. But Jefferson students blew this score out of the water with a 48. Folks, that’s 75% above expectations. Incredible.

Jefferson Elementary has a 10/40 diversity score. This means at least two races/cultures have at least 10% representation of the total school population. Students at Jefferson are getting some exposure to other cultures and will gain from the well-documented cognitive benefits that come with a diverse environment.

Consider their vision and mission statement:

We’ve interviewed principals at over performing elementary schools in Chicago, and documented several consistent themes . There were often strong principals at the helm, a culture of inclusivity and excellence throughout the school, high teacher morale, low teacher turnover, and significant relationships with three or more community organizations that provide services for the school.

We can see from their mission statement that Jefferson Elementary aims to embody several of these themes. And one data point that it’s working is in their students’ overperformance on standardized tests as evaluated by our algorithm.

Our hats are off to the students, parents, administrators, and, especially, to the dedicated and talented teachers that are truly educating Jefferson’s students.

Komensky Elem School, Berwyn South SD 100

Komensky Elementary School earns an 8/10 SchoolSparrow rating based on the impact that teachers at Komensky are having on student performance on standardized tests. Somehow the real estate search portals display a 4/10 rating for this high-quality school. Komensky ES operates in the top 21% of schools in the State of Illinois. Parents, Komensky deserves to be on your short list!

Our algorithm calculates the average expected score on the R/LA section of the test for schools with similar demographics at 24.2. But Komensky students out-perform this average by 32% with a 32. This school is doing something right, and deserves recognition as a high-quality learning institution for children from all walks of life. 

And for parents that want their children exposed to a second language, Komensky is a dual language school (Spanish/English). 

Their mission statement:

“The vision of Komensky School, as a dual language school, is to foster a safe community that provides, authentic learning that is inclusive for all students to empower their identities, cultivate curiosity, develop creative solutions, and promote a sense of global responsibility.”

Based on the extent to which Komensky students are exceeding expectations, we think they are succeeding at instilling their vision in Komensky elementary students.

Keep up the good work Komensky Elementary! Clearly good things are happening at your awesome school.

Piper School, Berwyn South SD 100

Piper Elementary is an 8/10 according to SchoolSparrow’s algorithm that takes into account the socio-economic profile of this high-quality school. School’s with similar demographics are predicted to score 29.4 points on average, but Piper student’s scored a 37, which is 26% above expectations! 

To put that in context, imagine you took a test in a class, and it turns out the average score was 75%. If you scored 26% above the average like Piper’s students, then you would have scored 94.5%! 

Piper is in the top 21% of schools in the State of Illinois, and they also have a 10/40 diversity score.

Prairie Oak School, Berwyn North SD 98

Prairie Oak School is underrated with a 5/10 rating as displayed on the major real estate search portals. Our algorithm calculates the average expected test score for schools with similar demographics at 25 points, but Piper students scored 30 points which is 20% above expectations. 

Prairie Oak is in the top 28% of schools in the State of Illinois and they also boast a 10/40 diversity rating. 

Karel Havlicek Elem School, Berwyn North SD 98

Karel Havlicek also beats expectations, scoring 27 points when the average expected test score is 23.6. They are underrated with a 4/10 rating as displayed on the major real estate search portals, but based on out-performing the average, SchoolSparrow’s algorithm recognizes Karel Havlicek with a 7/10 rating.

Karel Havlicek Elementary operates in the top 32% of schools in the State of Illinois.

Irving Elem School, Berwyn South SD 100

Irving Elementary School earns a 7/10 rating based on exceeding the average expected score for its peers. Unfortunately this great school is underrated with a 5/10 rating as displayed on all the real estate search portals.

Irving Elementary has a 10/40 diversity rating, and operates in the top 39% of schools in the State of Illinois.

How Will the Real Estate Industry Respond?

Real estate search engines now have a choice: to display truthful ratings, or display ratings that steer families away from neighborhoods/cities under the pretense that the schools are “bad” simply because parents have diverse or moderate to low incomes.

We think Zillow, Redfin, and Homesnap are all aware that our ratings are out there, and that they could be made available for display on their websites. But apparently there is no interest. Do they not believe the problem exists?

You can help urge the real estate engines to do the right thing by tweeting this message

Please consider displaying more truthful school ratings, so parents can make better informed decisions when considering schools in their home purchase. @zillow @redfin @realtordotcom @homesnap

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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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