Are You Really Buying the Best School for Your Child?

If you’ve been pinning your hopes for a good school district when buying your new home on the Texas school rating system, you’re out of luck. An Exemplary or Recognized district means that most of the students can do the minimum to get by and scrape out of high school according to the lawmakers of Texas. If that’s what you want for your child, you’ll be okay just about anywhere, really. But if you’re actually looking for a high quality education, you need to worry more about the indicators that aren’t mentioned in the hype.

College and Career Readiness

Finally, the Texas legislature has realized that it’s not enough to let kids scrape by on the minimum standards. Passing TAKS does not prepare children for college or even a solid career that doesn’t require formal university training. You can expect those lovely school ratings to change over the next few years as TAKS is phased out at the high school level and the tougher standards are put in place. While this is good news for students and parents, it makes it had to determine if you’re buying a house that feeds into a good school district.

There are too many factors to a great school to consider easily and it can vary by student and family needs and desires. If you’re looking for academic excellence to help propel your child toward a successful university career, ignore the TAKS test and even the state’s school ratings. There are only a few things you need to look for in the school report cards.

Researching High Schools

Your search starts with the high school – this is where the bulk of the higher learning will take place, and feeding into a great high school will likely have a trickledown effect into the middle school and elementary. Don’t be surprised to see a huge difference between high schools in the same district. Often a “good district” contains schools that are by no means equal.

Locate the campus data for the high school in the area you’re considering buying a home. You can find this Academic Excellence Indicator Report (AEIS) for each high school on the TEA website. Simply select Campus Name and type in the first word of the high school’s name in the search box. Select the appropriate school from the resulting list and consider the chart of numbers that appears.

Your best indicators for a high school’s actual performance are the following:

TAKS Commended Performance – Skip the basics of who passed, and instead look to see who was commended. Commended performance means the student only missed a handful of questions on a minimum skills test. If less than 25 percent of the school was commended in the four areas tested, the vast majority of the school isn’t achieving much beyond the minimum –regardless of an exemplary rating.

Advanced Placement/Duel Enrollment – This is the key section to see where the school’s clientele is headed. The more students taking Advanced Placement or Dual Enrollment courses, the more students are university bound. Look to see as well what percentage of the school tested on the AP tests and how many passed. One high ranking high school in Houston had 32 percent of students in AP/Duel Enrollment courses with more than 77 percent of those taking the AP exam at the end of the year and passing. (Not all students in the classes opt to take the exam – it’s not mandatory, but it does award them college credit if the student scores well enough.)

SAT Scores – Students only take the SAT or ACT if they are university bound. If a large majority of the school is taking the SAT or ACT and scoring above the state or national average on the test, you can assume the school is focused on preparing students for university level work.

Do you need to research every high school in Austin to find the best spot for your new home? Not necessarily. There are good and great schools scattered across the region. Ask your realtor about which schools are considered the best and use those names as a starting point for your research. Having a great high school not only protects your child’s best interests, but it can protect your real estate investment as well as your property will remain in demand even in the economic downturns.