School ratings affect home buyers

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COLUMBIA - Real estate websites have become a popular house hunting tool because they include lots of information including monthly cost estimates and school ratings. Mid-Missouri realtors say lots of people pay attention to what those school ratings say. It can even affect how attractive your home may be to some buyers.

"Very important," said Columbia realtor Cindy Goehl. "Every time I work with a family with kids, whether they're young kids or kids in high school, the parents want to know about the school."

If you go to websites like Zillow, Trulia or realtor.com, you'll find 1-10 school ratings.

"I have a lot of people when they visit with me they've already been on those sites, and so sometimes they'll say, 'Well, we don't want to look over there because they have this number in the school ranking,'" Goehl said.

The real estate websites don't rate the schools themselves. They pull the numbers from a California based group called Great Schools. Great Schools says 59 million people, about half of American families, visited its website last year.

"It's designed to be a starting point to help parents navigate the school selection process. The rating is a way to compare schools based upon student test scores as well as other available data," Great Schools Vice President Samantha Brown Olivieri said.

What is included in the ratings differs from state to state, depending on what information is made publicly available. In Missouri, that includes scores for all students tested in grades 3-8 in math and communication arts, science test scores for 5th and 8th grades and high school end-of-course assessments.

The 1-10 rating is all you'll see on most real estate websites, but if you go to the Great Schools website, you can also find a 5-star rating system based on parent, student and teacher feedback along with comments.

Goehl said family experience is just as important as test scores.

"I have parents that absolutely love the schools they're in," she said. "They love the individual attention their child gets, and they wouldn't trade schools for anything. So I really feel always looking at those numbers is a little false and to always check it out themselves."

While Great Schools thinks the data is important, the group agrees not every aspect of a school can be captured in a number.

"If there are advanced placement classes, if there are extracurricular options, what transportation and after school care might be available? All these are critical factors for families to think about when selecting the right school," Olivieri said.

Columbia Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said the district thinks the site has good information, but it's just one piece of the puzzle. She said she feels parents should look into what unique programs each school has to decide what's the best fit for their child.

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