This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!
Question: GreatSchools.org changed the ratings for Fairfax County schools. How important is it to consider school ratings when buying a home?
Answer: This summer, the popular school rating website GreatSchools.org made major changes to their ratings for most schools in Northern Virginia for the second time in less than a year. The changes resulted in a drop of 1-2 points for nearly every school.
According to GreatSchools.org changes in ratings are based on student progress (or “growth”) and college readiness data (SAT/ACT participation and/or performance and/or graduation rates).
Their school profiles now include factors such as how much a school helps students improve academically, how well a school supports students from different socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups, and whether or not some groups of students are disproportionately affected by the school’s discipline and attendance policies.
Many of these important themes now have their own rating, and these themed ratings are incorporated into the school’s overall GreatSchools Summary Rating.
School Ratings Influence Home Prices
Many property search websites such as Zillow and Trulia include GreatSchools information at the bottom of each listing. 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).
GreatSchools does not provide historical ratings, so I compared scores I had recorded for clients from Fall ’17, March ’18, and September ’18 to the current scores.
The Decision Is Yours
Looking only at test scores won’t tell you what the real-life environment is like. That’s why so many people rely on reviews. GreatSchools’ reviews can be written by anybody (parents, teachers, students, and even people not familiar with the school).
To make a decision based on a reliable rating, you can go directly to the Virginia Department of Education, where you can find detailed spreadsheets on pass/fail rates for every school, every grade, every subject, and every demographic.
If you’re considering moving to a new school district, I advise you to take the time to visit the school and take a tour; talk with the principal if possible. Talk to neighbors and join online forums. Take in as much information as you can and dismiss what’s not particularly informative.
I’d love to hear from readers in the comment section who purchased or are in the process of buying a home in Fairfax County, who placed a lot of weight in the GreatSchools rankings — how would these changes have impacted your decision when you bought or how are these changes impacting your current purchase strategy?
If you would like to discuss how the new GreatSchool rankings impact your upcoming plans to purchase or sell a home in Northern Virginia, reach out to me at [email protected] to set-up some time to meet.
If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email to [email protected].
Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, 703-390-9460.