GreatSchools.org (our take)

http://GreatSchools.org is the easy-to-use, test-driven school listings resource visited by one-half of U.S. K-12 families (55 million users).  

The compilation includes test scores, demographics, and increasingly, SAT scores, college readiness, and growth ratings, and actual parent reviews. Test scores, traditionally have correlated to parent income, and has caused some folks to question their reliability. As more data becomes part of the equation, scores will change, and some folks will question those numbers as well. The bottom line is that no one can tour every school, and no one should rely simply on test scores, or even make a hard cut off such as looking only at 9s and 10s. As LAUSD is loathe to break out magnet scores, many scores are blurred between the magnet and resident populations. The bigger the difference between the magnet populations and the resident school families in terms of economics, home language, etc, and the scores are not going to correlate.

Ready to tour? GreatSchools can show you what type of advanced coursework is available at local high schools: http://www.greatschools.org/california/los-angeles/los-angeles-unified-school-district/schools/?gradeLevels%5B%5D=h Or scroll down to “Advanced Courses” on any high school page.

GreatSchools also offers a checklist on what to look for on a tour: http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/the-school-visit-what-to-look-for-what-to-ask/

Suggestions for smoothing the transition to middle school: http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/smoothing-your-childs-transition-to-middle-school/

And, they even help explain their methodology and what it means: http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/what-average-greatschools-ratings-mean/

Many of our own kids, and kids we personally know (some gifted, some special needs, some reading three grade levels ahead) are thriving in public schools they love with GreatSchools.org ratings of 6, and even 4 (that’s on a 10 point scale). They’ve graduated on to the UC’s (and yes, even Harvard) and succeeded academically without throwing their families into hock. So we suggest you use GreatSchools.org not as your FINAL arbiter but as one tool in combination with visiting schools and candidly networking with other public school families.

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38 thoughts on “GreatSchools.org (our take)

  1. My wife and I are considering our Neighborhood school for our son for Kindergarten. The School is Short Avenue Elemenentary on the Westside. Some of our neighbors are starting to send their kid there. Do you have any feedback on this school?

    Ed

  2. Hi Ed,
    Short Ave is one of those schools, like many neighborhood schools on the Westside, that is experiencing a renaissance due to huge parent participation combined with strong administration. They have worked hard to make many improvements including campus upgrades, computers in the classroom with Renzuli access for every student, a preschool program, and while I last visited, a huge Science fair. I just see them getting better and better.

    Short is almost all neighborhood families now, so imagine what it would be like to be a part of that kind of local tight-knit community for your children and yourself. Imagine walking or biking to school, exchanging local playdates, drop-offs and pick-ups, and being part of a growing neighborhood spirit.

    The best way to get a sense of the school, or any school for that matter, is to go for a visit. Take a look around. If you want to meet the real movers and shakers of a school, go to one of their monthly Booster Club meetings. There are regular fundraisers and festivals scheduled through-out the year which is another way to not only support your neighborhood school, but also get a sense of who that community is and if it will be a good fit for you.

    Best of luck on your school journey!


    Tanya Anton

    Author, “Westside Guide to Public Elementary Schools:
    Navigating Magnets, Charters, Permits & More”
    http://gomamaguide.com/

  3. Dear Ed,

    We hear great things about Short. While in the “olden days,” Short may not have enjoyed the best neighborhood reputation, three years ago several moms from a nearby preschool (Redwood Village) decided to band together to renew local pride in Short (concurrent with their own children starting kindergarten). Working in tandem with a forward-thinking new principal, involved parents have partnered with the school to bring a Tree People Event (resulting in 70 new trees planted around the campus), new murals, new playgrounds funding by Anne and Kirk Douglas grants, and an afterschool art club. Project for 2008-2009 is a new library. New parent orientations typically occur in January and April.

    Ed, it’s worth noting that Short is a Title One school, so will not appear to have that affluent predominantly white Westside mix that, rightly or wrongly, some parents believe is the number one indicator of a quality school. As we’ve noted elsewhere, many of our children are in Title One schools all over Los Angeles and are thriving academically. However, regarding Short in particular, the best course of action is to talk directly to parents with children currently at the school. (Also consider articulating a short wish list (what are YOU looking for in an elementary?) and–yes, in a nice way–suggesting it to the booster parents and/or parent-outreach-oriented staff at the school. It’s your neighborhood school, it belongs to you, you pay the taxes–demanding parents make better schools for everyone!)

    A direct parent-to-parent contact for you at Short Elementary is:

    Debby Bohn
    bohndeb@yahoo.com
    (310) 739-4129

    (And I just noticed Tanya Anton posted something similar–glad we agree! Whew!)

    Best,
    Sandra

  4. Another asset on GreatSchools is the parent community. We have a several regular contributor/parents in LAUSD and nearby districts. The LAUSD group is located at http://community.greatschools.net/groups/13589

    There are parents with experience with giftedness, learning disabilities, and a variety of other situations that might change the approach a parent takes in choosing a school.

  5. Hi, does anybody have any information about Mayberry Elementary? It seems so charming but it scored a 4 and the student body is very homogeounous.

  6. Unfortunately, and I use that term loosely “censors, negative posts”. Just ask the moms in the old Schwab learning forums about how they feel about “Great Schools”. It’s a joke.

  7. Hi Keli Mc,

    Several of the most active Schwab moms are also very active in the parent community. We’re doing our best to actively assist parents on GreatSchools. YMMV.

  8. I don’t live in LAUSD, but I studied Physics and work as a data whisperer in my day job. I’ve always suspected that school test scores are a stronger predictor of parental income, wealth and education than student achievement.

    Additionally, median test scores don’t tell you how much your child will learn; they only indicate what kind of peer group they will meet in school.

    Anecdotally, I heard so many co-workers mention under-achievement of kids who went to high-scoring schools. One coworker said that, out of the kids he knew, the ones from my middle class neighborhood went to more selective colleges and graduated faster than the ones from his much more expensive neighborhood. He blamed the complacent peer group.

    Out of curiosity, I analyzed the test scores for my daughter’s middle class school (B) to that of a neighboring “blue ribbon” school (A) in a town where $1.2M buys you a starter shack. The results were startling.

    While the average test scores were slightly higher at school A, the parental educational attainment was much higher. That is, 51% of parents of students at school A held graduate degrees while only 21% at school B did. Furthermore, if you compare the test scores of only the kids of parents who hold graduate degrees, the kids at lower scoring school B actually have higher test scores.

    The full analysis is here:
    http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2009/03/school-correlations.html

    The mystery is solved. I work in a place where 50% hold masters and 30% hold PhDs. It would appear that our children, in the aggregate (YMMV!), learn more in a setting with a diverse student body.

    • Grace, very belatedly wanted to thank you for this info (and as a fellow data/analysis nerd, love your approach!). I wish I could pay for your to do tons of analysis on various and sundry issues in the LAUSD…

      Great stuff!

  9. i’m a big fan as you are a wealth of information. my son, a first grader, was recommended to be tested earlier this year for the GATE program by his teacher. we are in southwest san fernando valley and go to a great elementary school. i found out after calling lausd that he scored in the 99.2%. the nearby middle school’s highly gifted magnet program doesn’t even accept applications unless the kids are above 99.5%. obviously he is still very young but if he continues on this path, should we retest him when he’s older and more careful? his teacher says he’s bright but careless. we are happy to go to our local middle school if it’s appropriate for our son. i just want to know if retesting may be worth it in the future to make sure he has all different opportunities to choose from. i’m aware that retesting with lausd is quite difficult.

    • Retesting isn’t difficult–these days it’s impossible.

      I wouldn’t worry so much about the designation of gifted vs. trying to get into a highly gifted program for your son at this point, because there are so many options to look at (along with the issues of the district virtually gutting the gifted and highly gifted programs–Rebekka can add her two cents on this). If you’re happy in your current elementary and your local middle school has a decent reputation for challenging its gifted kids, you’re ahead of the game. Believe it or not, even some highly gifted kids go to “regular” gifted magnets and thrive. So don’t worry so much about the label as what the program will offer your son. Good luck!

  10. btw, magnetangel, any input on woodland hills elementary and woodland hills academy middle school? those are the schools my son is going and will be going. thanks.

  11. I know WHES has great test scores. I know families that went there in the past, but they’ve since moved. And I know families at WHA right now and they’re very happy with it.

    Since your son is so young, just attend the twice yearly GATE meetings at WHES and ask questions about the middle schools people send their kids to. By 4th grade, you might want to tour some of the middle schools, but not earlier because things can change.

  12. My daughter will start kindergarten in 2011. Our home school is Monlux Elementary, I would like any feedback on this school I can get. They have a science magnet at 3rd grade but I am unsure of the K-2. They did recently get over the 800 API hump, which some say is important and others say not so much. We are also planning to apply to Valley Alternative (for the points), CHIMES Charter and Valley Charter. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

    • Monlux is also our home school, and my daughter will start K in 2013. Did you end up at Monlux? Or any luck with the charters or alternative?

  13. Hi,
    Do you have suggestions for Middle School? Magnet math in the San Fernando Valley, Woodland Hills area? My son is crazy for math and “technology.”

    • Common choice for Math/Science in MS for the Valley is Nobel. That might be some drive for Woodland Hills. Also check schools like Lawrence Gifted in Chatsworth, because they do accommodate higher levels of Math. There are probably things closer for you, so let’s see what others weigh in with.

    • hi donna,

      my children go to WHES in woodland hills and end of last year, they had kids from WHES who moved onto different middle schools come back to talk about their current experience at their new schools. magnetangel pretty much summed it up, nobel in northridge and lawrence in chatsworth. having said that, the general consensus amongst all the parents seem to be that you should contact all the local middle schools to see what kinds of curriculum they offer. i hear good things about hale

      • Thanks, t. I, too, know Woodland Hills Academy families that are quite happy. I don’t know their specific curriculum, but it’s always a good idea to go in and ask to speak with someone, tour the campus, and get a good idea before abandoning the closest choice.

  14. I would love to send our daughters to our neighborhood school, Charnock Rd. Elementary, which is just several blocks from my home. I like the idea of having them walk to school and being connected to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, Charnock is underperforming (3/10 on Great Schools, 740 API). I am torn between taking flight (not that I’m sure where to run to) and taking up the fight to make the school stronger. Since the majority of my neighbors have chosen to flee the school, I’m not sure if I have any natural allies. Suggestions?

    • Please visit the school before you make up your mind. If they have a PTA, attend one of the meetings. Go to the School Site Council meeting and if they are a title one/ EL school, go to one to the CEAC meetings. Talk to active parents (not the parent in the neighborhood who don’t sent their kids to the school) read the LAUSD report card on school for Charnock Rd.
      I don’t know the school (heck I don’t even know which part of town it or you are in) but I do have my daughter at a school that gets a 1 on great schoolss and w are more then happy with the education she is getting (and the fct she is geting 100% and 99% on the STAR tests says the education she is getting is a good one).
      good luck!
      doreet

    • Charnock looks particularly weak next to Clover Elementary, which is only a half mile or so to the north and really benefits from getting the children of grad students living in the UCLA married student housing complex. That doesn’t mean Charnock doesn’t have quality teachers, activities, and involved parents though. This is a situation where Great Schools puts a number on a school and it brands it. If you look at some of the reviews on the same site, they praise the teachers and the classroom environment, but criticize the principal and administration. I would try to visit and get to the bottom of things. If you look at the school website, they boast about having a 60 point increase in API score over the last three years and they have a fairly sophisticated section (entitled “evidence of change”) to suggest this is the result of specific measures and an improved environment. Get contact info for the PTA head to see where the complaints about the administration come from (sometimes they are from elementary school helicopter parents who complain about everything and sometimes they are from parents of very specific types of students, such as those with IEPs where the concerns may not apply to your kids). It may be that things are a lot better than the picture painted by the numbers. There is real value in being able to walk your kids to school rather than battle LA traffic and you have a property owner’s stake (or at least a renter’s stake) in being involved in your neighborhood school.

    • Do you know what those greatschool ratings really mean/score? All they do is say how that school’s test scores compare to other schools in the whole state with the same demographics. That’s it! I really don’t think those scores are terribly meaningful other than as a very generic metric. We’ve been at great schools with low greatschools scores and vice versa.

      So agree with Doreet and anon — check it out for yourself!!!! Your family and child are different than everyone else’s and only you know what will work for you. If it won’t work, so be it, but wouldn’t you kick yourself later for commuting across the city if the answer were next door? Going to a PTA/parent meeting and chatting with parents (or stalking them on the playground at dismissal… which I’ve done!) is a great way to get honest opinions and a feel for the culture and parents who go there. Start now!

      Good luck!

  15. HELP. Looking for Advise – Regarding picking a Kindergarten.
    We applied to numerous Charters & some privates & didn’t get in – so in a panic I started applying to all the open enrollments & SAS schools I could find (not that my kid is amazingly advanced in reading or math – but I’m reaching). My dream school would be a progressive immersion school with great arts, sports, & environmental awareness – but alas I am lucky to have a school at this point. We live in Hollywood Hills & just got accepted to 3 public school each min. 30 minutes drive from our house (ouch). Each has pros:
    1. Glendale – Muir – Spanish Immersion (we can get the LAUSD permit) – pro: Spanish Immersion, con – I have no idea how the families are involved & if they are going to work together to really get kids what they need with the cutbacks. I like the idea of language immersion & fear I only have 1 chance to start in Kindergarten
    2. LAUSD – Roscomare. Seems like it has GREAT Parent involvement. But a friend mentioned that MORE cutbacks are looming & class sizes may be even greater in size etc. I think? it is pretty academic & I wonder how they cater to different children’s learning styles.
    3. LAUSD – Mount Washington Elementary – seems like it has good arts

    I may hear from other open enrollements I applied to next week… but these places want a commitment asap.

    Our Details
    1)Son born 11/15/06: high energy, loves music & dancing, has great anxiety about being separated from mom, loves to learn in a fun environment
    2) seeking Kindergarten
    3) in LAUSD our local school is Cheremoya

  16. have you checked out Cheremoya? I know parents (educated, white and upper middle class as well as Hispanic and working class). Micheltoren in Silver Lake has a Spanish Immersion program and great parent involvement and music and arts and is a very short drive from teh Hollywood Hills.

    • I have checked out Cheremoya. There is a small group of parents working to improve it – but the majority of parents don’t seem able or interested in getting involved in the way needed to really make a difference. I did meet with Micheltorena Principal & really liked t- didin’t get to do the tour… however my husband did not feel not feel comfortable with it being the first year & the fact that it is in an area once again where kids families may not be able to really participate to make that difference….

  17. It hurts when GreatSchools.org only gives our beloved neighborhood school a score of 5 out of 10. We send our very bright kids to Carthay Center Elementary and not only are they thriving there, getting a good education and social experience, but we can walk there! I know that “the nice mom” probably already chose a different school than Cheremoya (where my husband went in the 70s), but I agree with all the previous contributors to this discussion that suggested visiting their neighborhood school and making your own decision instead of taking Greatschool.org’s opinion (and API scores) at face value. It can feel isolating to buck the trend and not follow the flight of your neighbors, to higher scoring public schools, charters and private schools, but it has so many other rewards that money just can’t buy.

    Naomi

    • Hi Naomi, I’m gonna make a clarification here: GreatSchools doesn’t ‘give’ ratings. The 10-point scale is based on the CST scores. Some schools have higher scores, some lower. If your children are in a different demographic, then clearly, the experience for those students would be different. For instance, my daughter’s elementary had a very high special ed population. When those numbers were taken out of the scores, the remaining students tested near the same ability as the students from a nearby gifted magnet. But I wouldn’t trade the experience of having my daughter surrounded by all those amazing kids.

      The 5-star scale they use is based on parent and teacher reviews. And those are very helpful for parents looking for a school.

      You can read more here: http://www.greatschools.org/find-a-school/defining-your-ideal/2423-ratings.gs#2

    • My pleasure. The goal is not to create another version of “Mommy Wars.” We all come to our decisions for one reason or another, and you and I and the other yentas are here to offer guidance or enlightenment, or in my case with a 21-year-old and an 11-year-old, simple proof that they WILL survive because (or despite) what we do to them.

        • The job doesn’t pay, so essentially if you have info about schools in your area, or how many points it takes to get into a specific school you are just as qualified as any other parent here. Given that your daughter is in 3rd or 4th grade, you will be in the trenches soon enough.

  18. Can anyone recommend a TK or Kinder in the san Fernando valley? My hubby and I both work we have a 4 year old and a 10 month old. so we are trying to keep the kinder by our caregivers home who takes care of my 10 month old. I think my only change its open enrollment since we don’t live in the area. I heard that you can apply for kinder outside your ” school boundaries” if you work is in another school district or your care giver of a younger child is in another district? Not sure if that’s just open enrollment or a actual permit that will allows us to do this.

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