I spend a lot of time every week working for Parents on stories that rank things—from children's hospitals to Caribbean islands, theme parks to birthday party places. By all accounts, the numbers geek in me should be all over my daughter's school rankings, whether they're from the state or an education website. But I don't even bother looking them up anymore because I think the methodology is shaky. And if you're using rankings to decide where your child is going to go to kindergarten in the fall, I'd put more stock in the gut feeling from the school tour.
Here's why: The basis of these rankings is most often standardized test results (and they're under a lot of fire these days for whether they're a valid way to measure what kids learn). Even if you do have a sound standardized tests that all kids could take, you'd still have to be very careful when looking at the data comparing two schools because the number of children with learning disabilities, non-English speaking students, and economically disadvantaged kids (all of which likely have lower test scores) would probably be different at each school. What's more, if a school has a lot of students who transferred there within the last year or two, it muddies the picture too.
A couple of years ago, a national magazine ranked a high school in my area the second best in the state. I was confounded at that because this school didn't have high-school sports teams, a theater program, or much else in the way of extra-curricular activities. But the magazine didn't take that into consideration.
For what it's worth, I think the best schools have a diverse student body; loving, involved parents; dedicated teachers who are problem-solvers, as well as an administration who is willing to take risks. Unfortunately, school rankings come up short in giving up this information.
Karen Cicero is contributing nutrition and travel editor at Parents, and mom of a tween. You can follow her on Twitter at @karencicero.