Question: Do you know why GreatSchools.org changed the ratings for Arlington’s schools?
Answer: Sometime this summer, the popular school rating website GreatSchools.org changed their rating for most of the schools in Northern VA. If this sounds familiar, it’s because they made sweeping changes to their grading system less than a year ago, which I wrote about in March. The previous changes resulted in a drop of 1-2 points for nearly every school in Northern VA, leaving Arlington with high schools rated 5, 4, and 3. The latest adjustments seem to have increased the rating for most schools, but some schools got dinged again like Jefferson Middle. After the latest changes, Arlington’s high schools are rated 8, 6, and 4.
School Ratings Influence Home Prices
If you’re wondering why I’m talking about school ratings in a real estate column it’s because the ratings issued by GreatSchools.org heavily influence where people buy and how much they’re willing to spend. You can debate the merits of these ratings systems all you want, but the fact is that they play a significant role in real estate. While Niche.com generates the most traffic, I find that GreatSchools.org is much more popular locally and I think it’s due to the fact that they grade harder than Niche (Niche gives out a ton of A-, A, and A+ ratings).
I reached out to GreatSchools.org for details on why so many ratings were changed and was told something along the lines of “GreatSchools is always improving our rating systems to make sure it is as accurate as possible.” Through various threads and Googling I did earlier this year, it sounded like the changes earlier this year were due to a new score for how well schools help under-performing students improve year-to-year. I haven’t been able to find any information on why scores changed so dramatically this time around. If any of the readers have insight into the scoring adjustments, I would love to hear from you in the comments section or by email.
Tracking the Changes
GreatSchools would not provide me with historical ratings, so in March I compared scores I had recorded for clients in Fall ’17 to the new scores in March ’18. Now that we have another round of changes, I added a column to that table so we can continue tracking past and current scoring trends. Unfortunately, when I built the table in March I didn’t have any recorded scores for elementary schools and limited middle and high schools in Fairfax County.
Good News/Bad News
The good news is that the most recent adjustments helped almost all of Arlington’s schools, especially the high schools. The bad news is that it hurts the credibility of GreatSchools.org and other rating systems because it makes it hard to rely on their ratings when you have a school like Yorktown HS go from a 7 to a 5 to an 8 in under a year. Ultimately, consumers need to decide for themselves how much they rely on these scores to influence their decisions, but nothing beats talking to neighbors, joining online forums, and calling/visiting a school.