School Ratings: What do they mean?

New paper explores the system of school ratings and rankings

November 09, 2017

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— Parents, students, and education stakeholders should think carefully about the meaning behind school ratings and rankings, writes an RTI researcher in a new article.

“Although school ratings don’t necessarily tell parents about the quality of instruction their child may get from individual teachers, they can provide helpful information for families making choices about where to send their child or what school district to move to—but only if more families understand how they work,” said Ben Dalton, Ph.D., the author of the article and senior education research analyst at RTI.

The accountability movement in education—from before No Child Left Behind to the current Every Student Succeeds Act—has resulted in the proliferation of different performance reporting systems for schools nationwide. However, exactly what these ratings and rankings mean in the context of an evolving educational system is what Dalton explores in his article, “The Landscape of School Rating Systems,” published recently by RTI Press.

“As I reviewed the different systems of measuring school performance, I found that their goals, methods, and style of presentation varied considerably,” said Dalton. “If educators and families are to use these measures effectively, they should understand how they are constructed and how they came to be.”

The article examines the rating systems states have installed to hold schools accountable and drive improvement efforts, as well as school ratings and rankings created by independent organizations and the media.

To better understand school rating systems and how they can shape public perceptions and school improvement practices, Dalton discussed how rating systems fit within a broader field of organizational assessments, which aim to help people evaluate how well an organization is doing. The article details ratings systems used by states and other organizations, and discusses four aspects that affect their use and perception: the kinds of measures used, how such indicators are analyzed, how they are combined into integrated ratings, and how the ratings are labeled and presented.

You can view the article abstract and download the piece in full here