(TNS) — For middle-class parents, searching for the perfect school involves Googling, researching and networking — and of course dissecting state test scores.
Two Bay Area-based nonprofits want to broaden access to education tools and knowledge, especially to enable poor and immigrant families to review schools and see alternatives. Innovate Public Schools of San Jose and Great Schools of Oakland have unveiled a new joint website that rates every public school, both district-run and charter, in the San Francisco Bay Area, with information sliced and diced various ways. Parents can find out how well children of different ethnicities, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds perform academically.
The entire site, both for desktop and mobile devices, is available in English or Spanish. The Great Schools Bay Area website is the beginning of a resource its designers expect to expand nationwide. All the data comes from publicly available numbers.
The goal is to make it easy for non-tech-savvy families to find out information on schools, said Matt Hammer, founder and CEO of Innovate Public Schools. His advocacy and parent-organizing group works for improvement and choice in public schools for children from low-income families.
At a training session last month introducing the website, Redwood City parents stared in dismay at the school scores that they pulled up on their mobile phones.
"I was surprised," said Natalia Gutierrez, whose preschooler will start kindergarten in August and whose neighborhood school, Selby Lane Elementary, ranked only a 5 on a scale of 10. Among the school's Latinos, only 35 percent met English standards and 25 percent met math standards. "I don't want that for my daughter," Gutierrez said firmly.
She immediately clicked on links to look for other options.
Alvaro Cortez also found the Great Schools site useful. "I can see the ratings — and see that there are other opportunities."
That possibility was a revelation for several people at the training.
"The power of voting with your feet is so useful for poor families," said Bill Jackson, Great Schools founder and CEO.
The site shows how low-income students, and other various demographic groups of students, perform on tests, and how they compare with schools with similar demographics. The site spotlights schools in San Jose, Redwood City, East Palo Alto, Oakland and San Francisco.
A browsing parent could see, for example, that Trace Elementary in the San Jose Unified School District is rated a 5 — but that's the same as schools serving a demographically similar population, including two Rocketship charter schools.
Such comparisons, and the test-based rankings, don't sit well with many public educators who are less enthused about the new website. Instead, "our district is encouraging parents to use the California Department of Education CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) website to get data on our schools," Superintendent John Baker of the Redwood City School District said in an emailed statement. The district offered sessions to parents this year on how to read scores and use the state's website.
Since its founding in 1998, Great Schools has posted school data and parent reviews. The new website offers a deeper and more complex look at data, with links to a Zillow map and listings of homes for sale in neighborhoods, and a section of viewer reviews. Except for a few schools, the site doesn't review school climate and culture. Great Schools is working on adding measurements of student growth in test scores.
"Parents don't know they have choices," said Norma Alvarez, who last year enrolled her daughter in a KIPP school rather than a low-performing neighborhood school. "The more choices we have, the better education we have," she said.
©2016 the San Mateo County Times (San Mateo, Calif.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.