How do you know if a school is good?

On Tuesday the state released which Georgia public schools met the adequate yearly progress testing goals required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

A few weeks before that came the release of how elementary and middle schools performed on the state’s CRCT exams.

State and national leaders say both sets of results can be used to measure a school. But on the blog we’ve found too many problems with AYP and CRCT.

Many say the standards are too low. Others say too many people cheat. Some say administrators have figured out ways around the rules to make their schools look better than they really are.

If that’s the case, how do we know if a school is any good?

I know some parents go by what they feel. If teachers and the principal seem nice, it’s a good school. If they return phone calls, it’s a good school. If their child gets A’s, it’s a good school.

Of course, we know kids can get high marks and not have a good grasp of basic skills.

Some like using ITBS scores, SAT scores or graduation rates. Even then, what do you compare your school to?

Gwinnett leaders tout that the district average is routinely higher than the state average. Does that say much?

Atlanta school leaders say the district excels when compared to other urban systems.

But one Atlanta parent I spoke with recently doesn’t buy it. She said, “that’s like comparing yourself to the other dummies in the classroom.”

How do you determine if a school is any good?

66 comments Add your comment

Allen

July 16th, 2009
9:40 am

Of course it’s not as easy as looking at some arbitrary number during the commercials on “Idol,” but one way to know if your child’s school is good is to actually go there and volunteer

Lisa

July 16th, 2009
10:04 am

There are many factors that contribute to the quality of a school. While the test scores are important, they are only one way to measure how “good” a school is. The “feel” of the school is also very important to me — do the students, teachers and staff seem happy to be there? Then, you really have to look at how your child is doing in that environment. Who are your child’s peers? Peer group becomes increasingly important in the later elementary, middle & high school years.

Ernest

July 16th, 2009
10:18 am

One ’subjective’ measure I use is to determine if many of the other parents share values as myself with regards to education. You find that out by talking to people and being involved. You look at the attendance during PTA meetings, especially those when the students are not performing or food is being served. Do I feel welcome when I enter the building? You watch how your children interact with other children and their teachers. You ask yourself, how would I feel if I were a student at this school? Does there seem to be a sense of order in the hallways and cafeteria. The overall environment sets the tone for what happens.

From an academic standpoint, I look at nationally normed test scores, such as the ITBS. Again, this ‘may’ say more about the parents than the actually teachers. I also review the homework assignments so see if they are more ‘quantity over quality’. I’ve seen some teachers that feel they can request a lot of homework because “the kids can do it”. I do expect to provide assistance if my child does not understand a concept however when it appears they don’t have a clue, I become concerned.

Josh

July 16th, 2009
10:36 am

Drop out rates should be the number one criteria and there’s no need to allow creative interpretations of what that is. Second should be simple basic reading, writing and arithmatic. How hard is that to test? There should be baseline requirements for these. If schools don’t achieve them, anything else should be irrelevant. This may sound too easy but it’s not happening and any justification is inexcuseable.

irisheyes

July 16th, 2009
10:43 am

This would be hard for parents to judge, but easy for teachers. Does your school give you the freedom to try new techniques? Or does everyone have to march in lock-step with the newest, greatest thing? If I’m doing something in my classroom that is helping my kids succeed, I want to have the freedom to continue, even if it’s not what everyone else is doing.

Jeff

July 16th, 2009
10:47 am

Check the demographics of the school.

Teacher

July 16th, 2009
11:08 am

The school can be bad but your kids teacher or teachers are good. On the other hand the school can be good and your kids teacher or teachers could be horrible.

jim d

July 16th, 2009
11:18 am

Irish eyes,

not so difficult for parents to judge if they have something to campare to. Unfortunately with the way school attendance zones are drawn and mandatory education with the public systems having had a monoply lock on education for the last hundred years or so, most parents haven’t had an opportunity to view other schools or systems.

The fortunate, those who have had children in both public and private schools, do often have the expertise to evaluate the services being provided.

The solution is a simple one–allow the money to follow the student and eliminate attendance zones. Let the consumer judge and choose that which best fills their need. Of course educrats will never allow that to happen, for they would have to actually make meaningful changes to entice the consumer.

jim d

July 16th, 2009
11:22 am

How do you know if a newspaper is any good?

By the amount of lost comments on their blogs!!

Vince

July 16th, 2009
11:38 am

Jim D…..For once we agree!

After considering the posted question for a while I have to admit Jeff’s answer is probably the closest to being correct. A close second would be ITBS scores. A visit to the school would be a good way to finish up a study.

John

July 16th, 2009
11:46 am

There is no magic answer.

I live in a community with five public high schools. One of those schools, which happens to be the largest high school, is clearly the best if you have children who are excellent students and who plan to go to a good college. Their SAT scores are close to the best in the state. The students who take AP classes do very well on those tests. The school’s fine arts programs are excellent and they offer more sports programs than the other high schools. It is the high school we chose for our children and all went off to college and have graduated. However, I don’t think that high school is a good choice for average or low performing students. It is not where that high school places its emphasis and there is a dramatic difference in student performance between the two levels.

Two other schools do a great job of educating the average to slightly above average student. The school has gone to the block scheduling formant which fills student days with a lot of fluff and elective courses. Those students are the ones who go to either the local community college or vocational technical college and who want to pursue that route. They don’t have a lot of low performing students but the school doesn’t challenge the best students either.

Two other local schools don’t seem to do much of anything based on what I have seen in the product they produce.

At the elementary level, we have the same diversity. Two of our children went to one local school. We sent the other one to a different school. We took a lot of things into considration including test scores, faculty quality, parent participation, etc.

CRT scores and graduation rates are among the least important factors I consider–and my wife and I are professionals with advanced degrees.

where is jim d?

July 16th, 2009
11:52 am

“By the way, where has school choice worked? In Wisconsin? No. In Cleveland? No. There is no successful example of school choice working to help poor students.”

You still haven’t answered this question from a previous thread.

john

July 16th, 2009
12:05 pm

Graduation rate may be good indicator of the attitude and expectations of the students at the school.

granny

July 16th, 2009
12:29 pm

This is my second go-round with educating children, and I still have not figured it out so good luck to all you young people! I have decided though since I have a grand with special needs, that if I don’t get a good gut feeling of the teacher at the beginning of the year, we will move to another one! We had a sorry one two years ago and I did not fight it, just hung in there hoping things would get better but they never did. Kid lost all her self-worth and started hating school and anything associated with it. Ended up, so many parents complained until they moved this teacher to pre-K (from a 3rd grade class)! Now when I see this woman, I feel like fighting! Never again for granny!

Ernest

July 16th, 2009
12:36 pm

JimD said:

>>The solution is a simple one–allow the money to follow the student and eliminate attendance zones. Let the consumer judge and choose that which best fills their need. Of course educrats will never allow that to happen, for they would have to actually make meaningful changes to entice the consumer.<<

The problem would be how do you decide how much money to allocate for each child. This amount differs based on where you live. It differs if you are a student with disabilities, Title 1 student, labeled gifted, or ‘regular’ student. Should every school be everything to every kind of student? IMO, that where some of the disagreements some have arise.

Conceptually it sounds like a good idea until you have to implement it….

Turd Ferguson

July 16th, 2009
1:15 pm

Demographics and teen pregnancy rate for the area in question. Butt then again most of you liberal idiots wouldnt understand such simple concepts.

DeKalb Conservative

July 16th, 2009
1:46 pm

The lower the scores the better. This means the students are not adequate at learning and will easily assimilate into a role of government dependency in later life.

If a student illustrates superior comprehension and analytical skills, this student should be viewed as “at risk,” then placed into a corrective program of public school indoctrination until the child adhere’s to a “meets criteria” standard and no longer becomes a threat of having the ability to think independently.

AP Teacher

July 16th, 2009
2:11 pm

See if the teachers who work at the school have their own children attend that school.

jim d

July 16th, 2009
2:31 pm

OH I’m Here–but just lurking.

Obviously you are a product of our public educational system–one who is unable to do their own research as was suggested–so here’s a tip of the iceberg for ya.

From the alliance for school choice website.

School Choice Programs

•There are 18 private school choice programs operating in 10 states and the District of Columbia. More than 151,000 children participate in private school choice programs.
•There are five states that offer scholarship programs for students with special needs, such as Autism. More than 22,000 children benefit from these programs.
•School choice programs have led to higher graduation rates for student participants. Also, studies show school choice programs boost academic performance.
•Parents of students in school choice programs are overwhelmingly satisfied with their children’s schools.
•School choice helps public schools!

jim d

July 16th, 2009
2:41 pm

you might also find the following link of interest if you wish to know where choice programs are working.

http://www.allianceforschoolchoice.org/UploadedFiles/ResearchResources/Yearbook_02062009_finalWEB.pdf

HAGD

where is jim d?

July 16th, 2009
2:59 pm

“…There is no successful example of school choice working to help poor students.”

You’re still avoiding the question.

Silence is not golden

July 16th, 2009
3:29 pm

Notice Maureen Downey and the editorial board had no hesitation to criticize Clayton County Schools in their accreditation scandal. But Downey has been completely silent on the recent events surrounding the CRCT cheating scandal.

Who are Downey and the editorial board trying to protect?

DeKalb Conservative

July 16th, 2009
3:31 pm

where is jim d?-

“…There is no successful example of school choice working to help poor students.”

At what point does the label “poor” not become applicable? We’ve moved past being a society of farmer’s and industry. Today children are expected to participate and treat a public-funded education as an opportunity. For the most part, gone are the days of children dropping out in 8th grade to help w/ the family farm or to work in a factory.

Children cannot avoid being born into poverty, but they can control whether or not they take their studies seriously and want to use education an a means of avoiding the poverty in their adult life that they experienced as children.

Fulton Teacher

July 16th, 2009
4:01 pm

I ask my kids questions. I want to know what they’re learning. If I hear about a teacher doing more talking about their personal life instead of teaching the subject, I make a phone call, email or visit. I had to do this with my child’s English teacher last year. I look at the quality of the work being given. I also listen to my kids about the attitude of the teachers. If you don’t like kids or what you’re doing, and it’s obvious to the kids, you’re not my kids teacher. Also, how involved are parents in the PTSA. Test scores give some indication, but I wouldn’t rely soley on them. No matter the neighborhood…cheating happens!

ScienceTeacher671

July 16th, 2009
4:01 pm

***studies show school choice programs boost academic performance***

Studies show that *some* school choice programs may have a *slight* positive effect on academic performance, but *most* show no significant difference.

jim d

July 16th, 2009
4:10 pm

and you are still avoiding doing any research on your own.

jim d

July 16th, 2009
4:16 pm

ST671–might i point out the one big difference that is confirmable? “parent satisfaction” Keep the folks happy and you don’t have as much crap coming down on teachers from parents. THINK ABOUT IT!!

jim d

July 16th, 2009
4:23 pm

and to our troll,

let me point out that you have placed yourself in the minority since the majority of the populace, including teachers, support some form of school choice.

jim d

July 16th, 2009
4:24 pm

I think our troll may actually be a school administrator. Maybe even Napoalvin himself.

cricket

July 16th, 2009
4:51 pm

You can tell if a school is a good one by the way they handle children who are disrupting the learning environment. Ask your child, “What happened at school today?” If the first thing out of their little mouth is “Johnny kick the teacher and threw his chair”, then be up in that principals face first thing the next morning to let him know that you will not tolerate having your child subjected to such. Watch what happens next and then decide how good that school is.

Parents need to understand that a teacher who can’t get support from administration in dealing with disruptive students will not be able to educate the children who are willing to learn. Parents also need to understand that unlike teachers, they DO have the power to put pressure on administration to handle these issues effectively.

where is jim d?

July 16th, 2009
4:56 pm

“I think our troll may actually be a school administrator. Maybe even Napoalvin himself.”

Don’t flatter yourself.

catlady

July 16th, 2009
5:52 pm

At the elementary school level, walk the halls and observe the children going to and fro. Stand outside teachers’ doors and listen. See how the library is being used. Peek in the teacher workrooms. Find out about the reading program–scripted? Some form of (now discredited) Reading First? Ask to go into some classes to observe. See how “inclusion” is done. Check out the bathrooms (with supervision). Go in the lunchroom when it is full. Look at the playground when kids are on it. Read various teachers’ schedules (posted outside the doors). Find out where the junk food is sold. Go to a PTA meeting. (If the teachers outnumber the parents, think again!) Sit in the office and see how parents and visitors and students are treated.

Don’t worry too much about test scores. When things are RIGHT, the scores take care of themselves.

Escape from Americus

July 16th, 2009
6:45 pm

“Go to a PTA meeting. (If the teachers outnumber the parents, think again!)”

Describes Sumter County Middle School to the tee!

Old School

July 16th, 2009
7:16 pm

On the high school level, find out how many teachers are teaching out of field or are on provisional certificates.

Jeff

July 16th, 2009
8:07 pm

Once again the 2000 pound elephant in the room is being ignored; just check out the demographics of the school.

ScienceTeacher671

July 16th, 2009
9:34 pm

jim d, I suppose there is something to be said for keeping parents happy…then again, I have students who can’t pass the CRCT, but their parents are happy and think their bright little darlings are going to college one day. In other words, happy parents doesn’t necessarily equate to educated students.

Rosie

July 16th, 2009
9:38 pm

I have to disagree with the posters indicating graduation rate or drop rate should be the #1 factor when considering schools. These rates are easily manipulated. Adminstrators use graduation coaches to go pull every truant out of bed to attend school. Adminstrators also use lots “magic” to increase graduation rates. Credit recovery is the new social promotion. Same game, just a new name.

Demographics, low teen pregnancy rates and a very active PTA are the best indicators of a “good school”.

catlady

July 16th, 2009
9:49 pm

What kind of demographics are we talking about? Race? SES? Gender? Parental educational attainment? Federal lunch program? Car color? Type of pet? Rental vs. owner? House vs. apt. vs mobile home? Single parent, single parent with live-in, parent and stepparent, orginal mom and dad, gay couple, grandparent raising?

I know we can’t be talking about race, ’cause my school is not a good school and we have no black students, and only 16% Latinos,most of whom are American citizens by birth and a high percentage of whom are on honor roll.

G Cancryn

July 16th, 2009
10:47 pm

Communicate with your child or children. Go to parent teacher meetings whenever scheduled. Donate time if you can, (if your child asks, or wants you to) to the school where and when you can. And don’t be so critical, or moral about everything. Remember when you were young? And you turned out pretty good. Give without expectation. Be nice and supportive. Remember, after all, it’s your kid. Ultimately, they want to please you. Anything you feel is lacking in the school system instruction criteria you can go over with your child whenever you want.

MBW

July 16th, 2009
10:49 pm

As a teacher, here are some qualities I would look for in assessing a good school:

1) Go to the school. Ask the students to talk about/explain the work they are doing. Their responses will tell you most of what you need to know.

2) Beyond that, walk the halls and get a sense of the school culture…does the school expect quality work from the students? Quality behavior?

3) Does the school track student progress?

4) As for tests, my experiences have shown me that the NAEP tests tend to show the most accurate snapshot of where the students are…and they tend to be better written than the state tests.

MBW

July 16th, 2009
10:52 pm

Above all, students are the best measure of a school’s quality. Are the students learning at a level and pace that is appropriate to their age/grade level.

All other factors beyond student learning are secondary. It has to be about the students first.

MBW

July 16th, 2009
10:55 pm

Ok, one more thing….sorry for multiple posts.

At good schools, the teachers work together and share a common purpose. Look closely at how teachers and administrators interact with one another.

They don’t have to all love each other….but they do have to work together and be on the same page about why they’re there.

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July 17th, 2009
12:15 am

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July 17th, 2009
12:20 am

I apologize, Laura, for the above post, but I was typing gloriously on a post (rather long but, I think, stimulating and enlightening about “good schools”) and my finger hit some key, and the whole d-mned post disappeared. jim d, I know how you feel, but it was my computer’s fault, not Laura’s or the AJC’s. Perhaps tomorrow morning I will have enough wherewithal to compose again. It was a masterpiece, in my “humble” opinion. I am heart-broken. Heedabeedahoohoo!

Where is the AJC?

July 17th, 2009
1:01 am

With the confirmation that cheating has occurred in DeKalb, why hasn’t this story, which appeared on WSB-TV, appeared in this paper? It is yet another example of the blatant dishonesty, at the highest levels, of DeKalb County officials.

Since the more attention DeKalb gets, the worse off it appears to look, is it any wonder officials are trying to bully and intimidate citizens from protesting, and exercising their first amendment rights with tactics like a cease and desist letter?

Dr. Craig Spinks /Evans

July 17th, 2009
2:49 am

Use of the ITBS, in addition to a state curriculum-based measure, would allow us one more piece of information useful in the comparison of our kids and of our schools to those throughout our nation, an important something missing from the CRCT which compares us Georgians against ourselves. And, folks, things are worse than the CRCT and the NAEP paint them.

jim d

July 17th, 2009
10:00 am

ST671,

” happy parents doesn’t necessarily equate to educated students.”

But let me ask where the burden for the lack of education fall? surely not with teachers or the school itself–because the parent would have had the option to do something about it and failed to exercise that option.

jim d

July 17th, 2009
10:05 am

where is jim d,

I am always amused at people when they can not debate on merit and revert to opprobrium tactics.

jim d

July 17th, 2009
10:11 am

MBW,

“Are the students learning at a level and pace that is appropriate to their age/grade level.”

Please define “appropriate”. Isn’t this a rather subjective term that is at the heart of most educational debate?

ScienceTeacher671

July 17th, 2009
11:57 am

jim d, I’d argue that “the burden for the lack of education” should fall on the parents and students in most cases anyway…

There’s an old saying that “a people get the government they deserve”…and I suspect that this also applies for the subset of government which includes local boards of education.