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Comparing the Prep


Today's parents have access to an amazing array of resources when searching for a school. In addition to the traditional word-of-mouth from friends and family, information is available online through school websites, school report cards and a growing number of independent sites that claim to give the "inside scoop". Most of these independent sites show test scores, demographics, ratings, comparisons and parent comments.

"Our parents and students are awesome and already do a great job spreading the word about the excellent programs here at the Prep," said Principal Richard Gow. "However, we also want to arm them with tips and specific information to help them respond when someone they know sees inaccurate or misleading information on the web."

There are many valid ways to rate schools. The state of Arizona uses AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and Arizona Learns (a formula that takes into account test scores, attendance, and graduation rates, among other things). Newsweek Magazine determines the Best High Schools in America using Advance Placement information. uses a formula that looks at the state's standardized tests and the percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level at each grade, in each subject, and in each subcategory (e.g. grade 5/reading/females). As long as the data is accurate and aligns with the parent's priorities, this type of information can be useful. However, websites can show up on a search engine long after their information is current or accurate. For example: says North Pointe Preparatory has 397 students and is on Union Hills Drive. We are actually located on 43rd Avenue with an enrollment of over 800. (We were located on Union Hills...back in 2001; and we did have an enrollment of 397...back in 2004!)

Even when information is current and accurate, faulty logic and/or bad formulas can still skew the results. Just because a site claims to measure something doesn't mean it actually does. Parents need to read the fine print carefully.

For example: ranks schools by adding a school's average AIMS Math score to the average AIMS Reading score for a combined average raw score. The school with the highest combined average raw score is ranked #1, the next #2, etc. Although this sounds logical at first and the website's data is current and accurate, the rankings are actually still misleading. The problem beings when they use the average raw score to compare schools. The AIMS test is not a standardized test and its raw scores were not designed to be compared from grade to grade or even from one year to the next. Instead, the state sets benchmarks for each grade to determine exceeds, meets, approaches, and falls far below. The problem is further compounded when places schools into one of three categories; elementary, junior high, and high school, with no regard to the actual grades to Mesa high schools (10-12) and the rest of the valley's 9-12 schools. (Similarly K-6 elementary schools are directly compared to schools with grades K-5 and K-8.) The top-ranked school is each category on shows the differences in schools: high school - 1557; junior high - 1170; elementary - 1130.

As long as the schools being compared serve the same grade level, the formula might still be useful, however, compares schools with different grade configurations without warning parents. North Pointe Preparatory (all grades, 7-12) is listed as a high school with a combined average rank score of 1262.5, ranking it 300 out of 312 for all high schools in Arizona. However, if they had decided to list us as a junior high and used the same logic, we would have been ranked #1. In reality, the combined average raw score for our 9-12 in 1423, placing us 43rd out of 312. Our 7-8 has a combined average raw score of 1100.5, which would place us 44th out of 242. Even this data is meaningless unless every school on the list has the same grade configuration (which, as of the writing of this article, they do not).

Pointe Schools contacts about their ranking process. "Thank you for your thoughtful email," Bruce Hammond wrote in response. "I'm passing this along to our data team for discussion. It looks like we will be revisiting AZ rankings because of your feedback. We appreciate your help."

The final caveat for parents concerns the public comments on many of these sites. Most people post anonymously and there is no guarantee people on these sites are who they say they are. Also, what one person thinks is wonderful may not be so great for another family. Finally it is important to remember the posts only show one side of  a story. Schools are bound by student privacy laws and cannot respond to many allegations.