By Shasta Kearns Moore
In their quest for the best education possible for their children, parents may find ratings services to be a good way to quickly judge a school.
But those simple numbers may hide a more complex truth.
Take, for example, Scott Elementary School on Northeast Prescott Street in the Cully neighborhood. Is it a “good” school?
It depends on what information you rely on, and what experiences you value.
According to GreatSchools.org — the popular ranking site used by real estate professionals and Googlers across the nation — Scott Elementary is not a good school, earning just 1 out of 10 possible points.
But, Scott principal Megan McCarter says, relying only on GreatSchools.org data to make that call would be a mistake.
“I’m a very data-minded individual. I think tests and data are super important,” says the former math teacher. “I also think they’re not the whole story.”
Scott’s faculty loves the school so much that they stick around for years, McCarter says, and the Parent Teacher Association has won awards for its inclusive membership and outstanding programming.
GreatSchools.org relies heavily on statewide standardized test data for its rankings. The tests are offered in English and have been criticized for cultural bias.
While Scott’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) scores are low, McCarter says their quarterly tests — which can be offered in Spanish — show the school is in the middle of the pack nationwide for student growth. Nearly a third of students at the dual-language school do not speak English as their first language.
“In such a white city, we have a really diverse school,” McCarter adds, noting a special focus on racial equity and a social-justice curriculum. Learning how to work and play with people from a wide range of backgrounds, she says, is an “invaluable experience, especially when you are growing up in a city that is so white.”
A 2019 research paper found that the increasingly widespread use of GreatSchools rankings could be accelerating racial segregation at schools. After the website attached ratings to schools, the racial and wealth gaps between higher- and lower-rated schools widened.
McCarter points out that many of the written reviews on Scott’s GreatSchools.org page are glowing. She says that just goes to show that parents hunting for the right school should look beyond the number. “I would say do your research,” she says. “Talk to the principal. Go to the school.”