Great Schools.net - The premier online guide for K-12 schools
Jan 29, 2004 (Updated Jun 21, 2004)
For a few years now I have been utilizing the Great Schools Online Service to stay informed on the performance of the school my children attend. At the same time I have researched other schools to prepare for their future. I read the parent comments and reviews on relevant schools and subscribe to newsletters.
Great Schools Online Site has two components. There is The National School Guide, which provides basic data for almost every K-12 school in the country. This covers public, private and charter schools. The data covers school achievement, test scores, demographics, number of students and grade range. State School Guides include broader data that includes school profiles, search and sort tools, custom email newsletters and specific advice for those who reside in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Washington. There are plans to expand this service to other states.
Since my family resides in California I have access to both guides. I have compared the statistics of the current school with others in the area within the same school district as well as look into other Districts. A school profile will list the grades attending with the total enrollment. The statistics are behind with 2003 scores and data due in February of 2004.
Great Schools Online Site is a non-profit guide that has a yellow left border with appropriate advertising by Google and the site has sponsors such as Washington Mutual. Some of the advertisements include Sylvan Learning Centers, test guides and preparations according to States and articles in Spanish and English from a library of resources. There is a search for articles and a glossary of terms and sign up opportunities for newsletters and school updates.
There are links for Principals, teachers and parents to add comments to and update the data for schools. When looking through a district of schools there will be a box stating that parents have left comments or to rate a school. You can rate a school without leaving a comment and Principals have the option of responding to comments. The options are for past and present students attending the school.
The data I have comes from the California Department of Education. The profile for the school will show if it is public, private or a regular school with the district name and links to those websites if available. One school that I subscribe to has not completed an enhanced profile that would offer insight into the schools curriculum, special programs, activities, goals, volunteer information and donation needs.
Student Achievement is broken into three columns. Overall test score performance, compared to similar schools and test score improvement. For the State of California the ranking is 10 out of 10 for the API Academic Performance Index. The next column shows where the rank is compared to the others, like 5 out of 10. Then the last column mentions the API index for all schools is 800. The number will be for the year 2002 with the increase from the prior year. As mentioned earlier in February of 2004 the rankings will reflect 2003. This chart has three columns with the middle showing a summary. This will be listed as above average, well above average, below average, about average or well below average. Test score improvement will mention whether they met the target and have the number for the previous year.
There are two links below this chart with one to obtain more data that shows a bar graph with percentages of schools meeting the targets. There is another link for subgroups. This is breaking down the ethnicity of the students. The graph will show White, Asian, Hispanic, all students and low income. There are more links to click on to view how this increased from the previous year and to learn what certain items mean.
For example we live in a highly populated Hispanic area within Los Angeles Unified School District. The low income option is there since a large percentage of the students qualify for the free breakfast and lunch program. The income data also includes whether parents graduated from high school. This is under the heading of Socioeconomically Disadvantaged. They make the determination on how many children are in the free meal program. When choosing similar schools they use demographics as well.
Also on the school profile is whether they have made progress in the Federal No Child Left Behind program. There is a link here for more data. This site is very organized and detailed for deciding on a school that meets the needs of your child. At the top of the page for the school profile is the address with a link for a map to get there and another link to compare this school. This page will group twenty-five schools in the area according to distance. There are six columns showing the teacher experience, API index, miles, class size and needs improvement. There are blue bolded links to get further information pertaining to ethnicity, students and teachers.
I am currently looking into the Pasadena and South Pasadena School Districts for my kids and interested in the makeup of the school population as well as for the teachers. The options for the schools are White, Af. Am, Asian, Filipino, Pac. Isl., Nat. Am., Hispanic and Mixed Race. An example of two schools in the same district show 1% White with 96% Hispanic and another one with 46% White and 15% Hispanic. I prefer this ratio for my family since they already have disabilities to deal with.
The school you are comparing will be listed at the top of the list. The current school ethnicity where my children attend has 1% White and 88% Hispanic. Many in this first page of comparison show 0% for White and not until you get to Hollywood are the statistics more evenly structured.
There is also a column to check mark which schools you want to save to your list for future reference and newsletter subscriptions. I learned a few years ago of a newly created classroom in a Hollywood school that focuses on autistic children. I have been following their progress, but this is one of the schools that is below average and not complete in their profile.
On the plus side this is one school that shows a smaller student classes and ratios for children to teachers. The class size statistics are broken into K-3 and 4-6. Some classes in these listings have 17 students with others 32 and higher. There are more links for further data on these as well as points to consider relating to class size. These have bar graphs comparing the school to the state average. The data varies from school years in this section as well. Another graph shows how many kids are participating in the free meal program and the state average. Additional data groups the parents education level including high school, college, etc and home languages and those that are English Learners.
For me it is very important that I find a school where English is a primary language and my children are not a minority. It really depends on the location in Los Angeles county, as it differs in all cities. Glendale is well known for its Armenian population and Pasadena has a high Asian and Pacific Islander population. The table also mentions that many students in California schools do not yet speak English fluently.
The quick facts located on the profile for schools lists any special features, such as before and after school care. The total school population is posted as well as school hours, if they are a year round or track school, sports, teacher experience and credentials with further options by clicking on links for bar graphs. These will include the State average and can be compared to other schools.
The first step is looking at the data and comparing it with other schools. Then a school visit is the next step to determine the best placement for your child. Technology and Facilities is mentioned on the profile of schools with the data of how many computers there are per student. You have the option of making your own school list and keeping track of their performance. This would be the time to utilize Great Schools Online Site since the new data from the previous year is about to be posted.
In September I received notification that the California Standard testing results were in. Once you have received your childs results via mail then you could compare how they scored to other students in the same school. There were links to compare to the state level with the school, another link to post a comment about the school. The three page newsletter also had results within it for reading and math for the school. A new feature Great Schools Online Site implemented was My Star Student, a private report. This was the first year these tests were administered so there is no comparison data for previous years.
After I followed the link I had the option of inputting my childs score for reading to be given options of a reading list to help develop this skill and increase it with more reading options.
Great Schools Online Site also has a parent resource center, a school choice wizard for entering an address to find neighborhood schools. The current school my children attend does not have special education for grades 2 and 3, therefore I am searching now for a school for both kids to attend, and we will move to a neighborhood once we find the school. My searches are showing more data at these schools like clubs and bands plus how many years the Principal has been at the location. The results also are showing more students in the class and in the school. This happens when you move to a larger city, but I feel the ethnicity makeup is worth the move as well as the scores are much higher and there is no low income column as we move out of this area.
My son is one of only a few students that has to pay for meals at school and brings his lunch a few times per week as well. The downside to moving to a larger school is looking into the teacher and student ratios and investigating further the Special Education options, library, computer room, lunch menu and whether vending machines are on campus. I have seen on the news that many schools serve soda and the condition of the bathrooms is not satisfactory. I would like to see this data eventually added to the Great Schools Online Site.
The regular LAUSD site lists all the schools and the ethnicity break down plus how many children have been expelled and disciplinary action taken. There was a time I considered moving back to New Jersey. I utilized Great Schools Online Site using addresses of relatives to note the performance level of schools and looked at ones I attended long ago. When searching you can check off your priorities like small class size, school size, those with high test scores and diverse school population. The data is not as extensive in this State.
The parent resource center has articles on bullying, safety on campus, discipline, tips for wearing backpacks, special education resources, child care at school, student support, success stories, raising funds for schools, thank you notes for teachers and other worthwhile tips for parents. All pages on the site of Great Schools.net have options for signing up for newsletters, printing and emailing the page.
Soon the focus at school will be on preparing for the tests. Last year the test was on May 15, 2003. The results were mailed in September. The school today, January 29, 2004 had an award ceremony for those with outstanding achievement. My son
received his certificate for language arts and Math. Most of the children received their certificate for one of these, so having my son excel at both was very rewarding and exciting. My son is mainstreamed but it is noted on his IEP to take performance tests in a small group setting with extended time. Specific accommodations can be noted on an IEP.
Great Schools Online Site has a wealth of information to assist families in choosing a school for their children and prepare for a move across town or across the country. Another option includes preparing for the school visit. There are questions to ask, things to look for and divided into groups for types of schools like charter, high school, middle schools and elementary. There are comments from users offering feedback on these tips and many are from students offering their assessment of the school.
I highly recommend Great Schools.net for all parents who have a child ready to attend school and those at a school. Read the parent reviews and note the ratings of schools. Check the teachers credentials, view the makeup of the school and how many teachers per student. I also suggest signing up for several newsletters to gain insight into test scores and how the school compares to others and the state recommendations. Parents need to stay informed and involved in the school their children attend and research potential schools.
*** UPDATE ***
I received via email today an updated school profile. Since one of my children will be attending another Elementary school this coming school year, I went to subscribe to that school and wanted to read parent reviews.
I then learned that the site is now charging a $14.95 per year subscriber fee to read parent reviews, see ratings, etc. This non-profit was being funded by foundations but in order for the site to maintain long-term they needed to charge this fee.
This is now called Great Schools Insider Premium. You do have the option of viewing one school for free as long as you then contribute a review.
The data I have been reading pertains to California, therefore I am not sure if this change is the same for other States.
The payment options are MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express.
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