By Joshua Benton
How well are kids learning at your child’s school? There’s probably no simple answer.
But in an era of standardized testing and school accountability systems, there’s plenty of data to provide at least some objective answers for public school parents. (Private school parents should also ask their principals for available data.) But remember, some of the most important factors about your school don’t show up in charts. Like anything else, there’s no real substitute for walking into a school and seeing for yourself. Data, however, can provide a starting point. Here’s where to go:
Academic Excellence Indicator System
Burrow into this site and find your school. The Texas Education Agency Web site will have you swimming in data, from ratings and teacher experience to ethnic and racial diversity. You can see how students fared on state tests by grade level, by race and by socio-economic status.
There’s a lot here, including:
*Concerned about your school’s dropout rate? Don’t look at the official state-reported dropout rates. Instead, look at “Students By Grade.” Compare the number of 12th-graders in the most recent year with eighth-grade enrollment four years earlier. If there’s a big gap, it can be a clue to a problem. *Check teacher salaries – the best teachers are often lured to districts that pay more.
*Look at “Budgeted Operating Expenditure Per Pupil” to see how much money a school is spending per student.
*Check class sizes.
Teacher Preparation Index (TPI)
Ever wondered how prepared your school’s teachers are? The Dallas Morning News calculates the teacher preparation index from state data to determine the certification and experience level of teachers.
The index rates all Texas schools in three categories: 1. What percentage of teachers are certified? 2. What percentage are certified and work in their specialty area? 3. What percentage have less than two years of experience?
Just for the Kids (JFTK)
Just for the Kids is a nonprofit research group founded by Dallas attorney Tom Luce. It has struck a deal with the TEA that allows the group access to complete state records on students. That lets it push the data through a variety of algorithms, formulas and other things too complex for most of us to understand.
JFTK’s basic theory hangs on something called the opportunity gap. The idea is to measure the gap between how well a school performs and how well the best similar schools perform.
You might find that your “exemplary” suburban high school, highly rated by the state, doesn’t fare as well in the JFTK model. The JFTK Web site can be confusing, but you’ll find it’s worth your time.
GreatSchools.net’s strength is pulling together data from disparate sources and making it intelligible to the average reader. It’s not nearly as ambitious as Just for the Kids; it’s mostly a well laid-out compendium of things you could find elsewhere, including the TEA and JFTK sites. Full disclosure: The News has an arrangement with GreatSchools.net to use its data on our Web site.