This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A couple years ago, Jean Rauscher was at a familiar crossroads.
Her oldest child was about to start school, and the family wanted to move.
“And we can’t visit everywhere,” she said. “So thank God for the internet.”
Rauscher’s first instinct was to google the phrase “best elementary schools in the USA.” That led her to several websites: GreatSchools, Niche.com, SchoolDigger, and U.S. News & World Report. Each is a little different, but they all try to judge school quality. And they each attach an overall score, letter grade, or ranking to schools across the country.
“It’s so helpful to have that one number,” she said. “This elementary school’s a 10. This elementary school’s an 8.”
Schools in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District in Chester County, Pennsylvania, rate highly, and that’s eventually where the family moved. The ratings didn’t dictate Rauscher’s choice, but they guided it. They gave her somewhere to start.
Pennsylvania used to be one of the entities that rated schools.
In 2013, the state started assigning School Performance Profile scores, which ranged from 0 to more than 100. That kind of scoring was once required by the federal government. Then the law changed, and Gov. Wolf’s administration says it started to rethink its approach.
Last month, it unveiled its new school evaluation tool, the Future Ready PA Index.
Visitors to the site will see a profile page for each of the commonwealth’s public and charter schools. Those profiles contain colored dots sorted into eight categories — with links to more detailed data.
But here’s what you won’t find: