The Best Online Sites To Find The Best Orange County Schools

If you are moving to a new area and are concerned about the public school your child will attend, you have most likely gone online to search for information on the district and to compare particular schools in the area. But, where can you find the most reliable information on the best Orange County schools when all the sites use different criteria to score? There are several websites out there that rank schools and school districts. Which has the best information? Which is the most up-to-date? Which one should you trust to find the best Orange County schools?

Do a Google search on school rankings in Orange County and you will get a nice list of websites to explore. The top sites will be GreatSchools.org, Niche.com, and SchoolDigger.com. SchoolRatgings.com will also come up, but it only has minimal testing information which is 2 years old, so it is not a useful site. Here’s a look at the top 3 sites to find school information and data, as well as one more very underused, invaluable resource most don’t know about.

Using GreatSchools.org To Find The Best Orange County Schools

GreatSchools gives a school or district a score out of 10, based on test scores, student progress, equity, college readiness (graduation rates, college entrance exam data, and AP data), and advanced coursework (how many courses offered and how many students enrolled). While GreatSchools does offer reviews from parents, it does not use those reviews in the calculation of its school score. In addition to the information used to calculate the school’s summary rating, you can find other useful information about a school as well.

Information included in a school’s report will include current test scores for Math and Reading, racial and ethnic makeup of the school including test scores and discipline and attendance rates for each group, testing information for low-income students (those receiving free/reduced lunch), test scores and discipline and attendance rates for students with disabilities, percentage of students learning English, student-teacher ratio, and community reviews.

GreatSchools is extremely transparent about where they get their data, when they update their data, how often they update data, and their methodology for scoring schools. The data displayed is the most current data available. Check back in the Fall to see updated information from the 2017-2018 school year.

Using Niche.com To Find The Best Orange County Schools

Niche goes a few steps further than Great Schools by adding more categories and data. A district is given a letter grade in 10 areas: academics, teachers, clubs and activities, administration, food, culture and diversity, college prep, health and safety, sports, and resources and facilities. Each school within the district is also given an overall grade and grades for whichever of the above 10 areas there is data. Elementary schools are mostly given grades for academics, teachers, and diversity, while high schools will show grades for more areas. This site uses parent/teacher survey responses (subjective information) in their calculation of a school’s grade. Their website also includes maps with boundaries, as well as comparative rankings with other schools in and out of the district, and reviews from attendees.

Sounds really great, right? All the information you could want about a district or school all in one place. But, their testing data for at least three school districts (Placentia-Yorba Linda USD, Brea Olinda USD, and Fullerton Elementary SD) is from the 2015-2016 school year and has not been updated with the most current testing data available from the 2016-2017 school year. The newest testing data from this school year (2017-2018) will be available for reporting in the Fall of 2018. Come Fall, Niche will be 2 years behind on testing data. If they don’t have correct testing data, how is the rest of the information reliable? The grade may be useful to get a general idea, but look elsewhere for current, reliable data on a particular school or district.

Using SchoolDigger.com To Find The Best Orange County Schools

SchoolDigger is a great site if you want very detailed information about a school or district and it’s testing data. Testing data alone is used to determine rankings; there is no subjectivity. If you are a numbers geek, you will love this site. All data has been updated with the most current testing data, so you can trust the numbers. SchoolDigger will give you detailed testing data (dating back to 2004), rankings based on current scores, district boundaries, student/teacher ratios, ethnic makeup, the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch, and more.

Using The School Accountability Report Card (SARC) To Find The Best Orange County Schools

Every public school in California is required to create a SARC each year. According to the California Department of Education, “The purpose of the report card is to provide parents and the community with important information about each public school. A SARC can be an effective way for a school to report on its progress in achieving goals. The public may also use a SARC to evaluate and compare schools on a variety of indicators.” Schools are required to provide data in the following areas: demographics, school safety and climate for learning, test scores, school completion rates, class sizes, teacher and staff information, curriculum and instruction descriptions, post-secondary preparation information, and fiscal and expenditure.

The only downside to the SARC is that they don’t need to be published until February 1st. This means that the current data, from the 2016-2017 school year, doesn’t have to be updated until February of 2019. If you want to get data for the school before February of next year, you will have to check GreatSchools or SchoolDigger in the Fall. The best thing about the SARC is that is is very reliable information put out by the school districts themselves. So, while you will not find any sort of ranking system for schools by using a SARC, you will know that the information is completely reliable.

If you want to find a SARC for a particular school, there are a few places you can look. First, check the school’s website. If you can’t find it there, look on the district’s website. The district should have every school’s current SARC available. One more option is the California Department of Education (http://www.sarconline.org/).

So, What’s The Best Place to Look To Find The Best Orange County Schools?

Hands down, look at the School Accountability Report Card (SARC) first to find the best Orange County schools. It is the most accurate information you are going to get before the new 2018 test scores come out. Once it’s Fall and GreatSchools and SchoolDigger have the updated their information, you can look there and wait until February of 2019 to check their information against the SARC.

Test scores can tell you a lot about a school. But since they cannot tell you everything, the second best place to look will be GreatSchools, since they take other factors into account besides testing data. SchoolDigger will be the next place to look when comparing schools online. You can certainly use Niche.com for comparing schools since data shouldn’t fluctuate a ton from year to year, and there may be some useful subjective data in the way of reviews, but just remember that they don’t update their data as often as other sites.

Using information online can help you narrow your focus. But remember, there are other ways to find information on the best Orange County schools besides looking online. You are not going to get all the subjective details you need by looking at data online. Call the school, meet the principal, and take a tour. Drive around the neighborhood. Bring your kids to the community park and have them play with the kids while you talk to the parents. Doing theses things will give you a bigger picture than any online search. Happy hunting!

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