Intelligence

A school is more than a score

Why parents should look beyond class size, test results and traditional rankings when picking a school that’s right for their kids


When it comes to choosing a school, parents can become easily fixated on scores and numbers—data that largely come from standardized testing. But evaluating a school by just its scores can be limiting. First, quality is a very subjective thing. Second, looking at a school’s program diversity, teaching strengths, facilities and more will provide a better sense of strengths and weaknesses than annual scores. What’s more, comparing schools that specialize in different things is a little like comparing apples to oranges: one school may offer more robust academic instruction but lack arts programs; another may have French immersion but fewer opportunities for athletics. At the end of the day, choosing the right school for your children is more an art than a science. Here are five things to consider when making sure a school is right for your family.

1. Make the Most of Your Tour

Be sure to spend a good few hours at your child’s prospective new school before making your decision. A visit is straightforward to set up—in fact, at SchoolQ, we provide all the relevant contact info on each school’s profile page. School tours aren’t just a chance to check out the building and grounds; they’re an opportunity to flesh out the fuller picture of the school. Part of your line of inquiry will be pure fact-finding: When does the school day begin and end? Are meal or snack programs provided? Is there a dress code? How is technology used in the classroom? What is the turnover rate for teachers? How much homework is assigned? Keeping a list of those questions on hand, while devoting equal time to the more emotional fact-finding. The success of any school, after all, depends on its heart and soul. Ask your tour guide about how progressive and nuanced the school is when dealing with issues like bullying, learning differences and nurturing the individuality of their students. What role does student mentorship play in the school—do older kids have meaningful opportunities to learn and play with younger ones? Ask the school to put you in touch with different members of the community—students, teachers and parents—all of whom can round out the answers to these questions.

2. Look Beyond the Numbers

There are a few limitations to scores and numbers. For example, class sizes aren’t always an indicator of quality—a class of 24 students isn’t automatically better than a class with 36. Other measurements can be misleading; schools that have higher rankings on things like EQAO scores may be smaller institutions where there’s little diversity of abilities in the population—or a lot of diversity in the programming. Numbers can help guide your decision, but they don’t tell the whole story. In fact, while standardized testing is a snapshot on how students and schools are doing compared to the city average, that picture is often incomplete—and sometimes unfairly biased. SchoolQ results add depth to research with qualitative analysis from a variety of inputs, interviews and sources. Each SchoolQ Profile page adds a wealth of information from members of a school community, curated by our data experts and amplified by teachers, principals and other stakeholders on an ongoing basis (see our School Challenge).

3. Talk to the Kids

Parents have one view of the ideal school experience, but kids have a keener sense of what goes on at their school and what they like about it—or don’t. If possible, try to talk to some of the students at your child’s prospective school (they may very well be guiding your tour). There are some things you can glean through observation, like the layout and organization of the classrooms, or if the facility and grounds are well maintained. But the perspective of the students is invaluable. After all, kids tell it like it is.

4. Talk to the Parents

Parents of current students can provide a different kind of window into the school. Active parents make for better schools, because they support underfunded programs (raising money to replace an old playground, or bringing in enrichment for sports or the arts). And it’s not just about money: a dynamic parent network can help make your child’s school a true community.

5. Take a Look Around

School is where your kid will be spending most of her daytime hours, for six or eight years of her life. That means she will become intimately familiar with the surrounding area. Look around—is the school on a busy road, or tucked away on a side street? Is there easy access to public transit, should your child require it? Are there nearby parks, public libraries, or shops? Is there a local hangout where older kids like to congregate after school? Different families have different versions of the ideal school ’hood. Take a stroll and see how it feels to you and your kids.