When you are searching for information on schools in your area or the area in which you are planning to move, it’s important to understand what you’re looking at.  In this article, I will be helping you to navigate through the www.greatschools.org web site so you can get the most out of the information you find. As a retired teacher of 20+ years, I truly understand what the numbers actually mean and what story they tell about the schools themselves.

The Categories:

Each school is divided into 3 categories and then sub-categories within.  The main categories are:

Academics (as you would expect and covers student progress, readiness for higher education, college completion and Advanced courses available and how many students are on the roster in those courses)

Equity (which describes race/ethnicity, low income, and students with disabilities and how these students compare to the main population of students)

Environment (the demographics, discipline and attendance, teachers and staff within the school and the neighborhoods that are assigned to the particular school.

Are the Academics Rigorous?

  • Student Progress is how students are progressing from one year to the next compared to the same grades in other schools within the state.  This  information is based on Standardized Test Scores.  These tests are not particular to the student, the area  in which the student lives, their abilities or any preparation.
  • College Readiness is based on graduation rate, SAT scores (there are those Standardized Tests again) and AP Course Participation.  Remember there are students who graduated with honors, those who graduated “by the skin of their teeth” and those students who fell somewhere in-between.
  • College Success looks at how long students remain in their choice of higher education.  Do they drop out because they are struggling due to being ill-prepared? And was this the fault of the student or the school? Or do they remain in college until graduation and do well or just ok?
  • Advanced Courses looks at what percentage of the student population participates in AP courses in Math , Science and then Other, which has English and History courses lumped together.  If your child is drawn to these courses and there is low enrollment, you might want to ask if these courses might be eliminated.  If your child is an average student and the majority of the classes are geared towards the AP students, I would worry if average students are in the minority and therefore, if my child can keep up with even the “College Prep” curriculum.

Are the Schools Fair and Equitable?

Race/Ethnicity: This section looks at the the student population broken down into the different races/ethnicities within the school.  They then show how each separate population is progressing from year to year, including, college readiness, Advanced courses and Standardized Test Scores.  It measures how the school is helping to differentiate learning for all students.

The same measurements are used to compare the income level of students and Students with Disabilities.  Again, these comparisons show how well the school handles the  students who fit outside of the “typical” for that area.

Environment: What are the Class Sizes? How is Discipline Handled?

Teacher, cane and gown

Student Demographics. This section shows the diversity within the school based on ethnicity, income level and gender.

Attendance and Discipline. What percentage of students are on time, tardy and in attendance on a daily basis? What is the number of suspensions? This tells a great deal about the leadership within the school and who is actually running the show. If students are misbehaving regularly enough to warrant a large number of suspensions, new methods are a must. Also, ask if a low number of suspensions means that they have in-house suspensions (which doesn’t count towards the state recording of disciplinary acts) or if this number is accurate.

Teachers and Staff. What is a typical class size or how many students are in a class, per teacher? How many students are assigned to each school counselor? And how much experience do the teachers have—is it mainly recent college graduates, teachers in the middle of their career, teachers nearing retirement or a healthy mix of all?

What is the Reputation of the District?

This site also has room for comments and reviews but keep in mind how movie and restaurant reviews work.  One man’s poison is another man’s pleasure…That’s true of schools, too!

If you have any questions about GreatSchools.org or any towns in and around Rhode Island and Southern MA, please feel free to reach out!