How important is school district i.e. API scores? — The Bump
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How important is school district i.e. API scores?


We are actively looking for a new home for our growing family. We have 2 kids under 2 so school is in our near future. We are torn between South Fremont (great schools) or Santa Clara -Rivermark area (OK schools). As you can imagine, S. Fremont is $$, but it is close to work and day care and Santa Clara about 20 minutes away and there's a home we like, price in our range, near park, etc but I just dont know if we should put an offer in if the schools are that well scored compare to Fremont. For our price range in South Fremont, we are looking at an old home, smaller and probably need fixing, but Santa Clara in Rivermark, its about 5 years old home, 2400 sq. ft and close proximity to everything.

So tell me what you gals think?

Re: How important is school district i.e. API scores?

  • My husband and I just bought a home (or, are buying...about to close), we won't be TTC for another year or so and great schools (API scores of 900+) were very very important to us.

    While we definitely envision that that's where our children will go to school and where we'll stay, so we found it vitally important for that reason, I also really believe in the great value or your investment based on good schools.  It was much more important to us to buy a small home with GREAT schools than a large home with okay (or anything less than great) schools. 

    Several people have told us we're crazy (in particular b/c we don't even have kids), but I have a friend who bought her house a couple years before getting pg, now has a 2 year old, and she is already starting to feel very nervous b/c of the schools they're near.  She has already been investigating buying another property (to maybe use as a rental, but also be able to utilize location) in a better district just for schools...obviously, it would have been wiser to put her money into one house in the good school district than to have to buy a 2nd house JUST for schools, kwim?

    Anyway, to us, schools were critical/crucial, and honestly our #1 prioritiy item when house hunting.

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  • Ditto MrsJulieT...API scores are usually higher in more affluent areas.  This doesn't mean that the teachers at schools with lower API scores aren't good.  My school's API is just under 800 (800 or above is the goal) and there are lots of fabulous teachers at my school. 

    If you can, try to avoid schools that are in program improvement because they usually spend time only on math and language arts and cut out the other things like science, social studies, art, and music.  I am a big believer that these things help students enjoy school and increase motivation, thus improving API. 


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  • look at classroom size too (yet another thing that can fluxuate, but if it's already a crappy ratio, it's something to consider -- in my experience, bad ratios mean more academically talented kids are left to learn the material on their own, and often don't meet their potential as a result).
  • image MrsJulieT:

    Another thing to check is enrollment. If it's declining that means the school is not going to receive as much money next year and each year it declines the money continues to go down. So a school could look fantastic right now but if they are in a declining enrollment pattern it may not be so fantastic a few years from now.


    Or it could mean that they'd merge with another school or bring in more impoverished students that aren't at the same level.

    Also beware of schools which are growing.  Ours is massively overcrowded and is more so every year.  Overcrowding leads to stress and while it's easy to bring in portable classrooms, it's not so easy to fit more in the cafeteria, etc.

    I don't think a top of the line school is super important (I've taught at them and it's been insane) but I'd want strong (and strong similar schools ratings) that have held the test of time.

    That being said, I'd prefer a home I love in a neighborhood I LOVE with decent schools over a shed with the greatest schools.

    Good luck

  • I'm not familiar with how the API scoring works (we moved from Texas, where my sister is a teacher, and will likely be in France by the time Bunny starts school, so I'm only moderately concerned with the state of public schools as they relate to where we live)

    I know it's hard to consider now, but having a good teacher who can engage your children - as well as being involved in their schooling yourself - will make much more of a difference than how the overall school scores. If the scoring is similar to Texas, then things like the scoring of special ed students will drag down the scores of the overall school.

    If you have the chance, it might be worth checking out the particular schools they'd be enrolled in to get a feel for the atmosphere and all of the other important things that the test scores don't reflect.

    Also keep in mind that Obama campaigned on reforming NCLB (and then the country broke and unfortunately all he could do was throw stimulus money at it, but I'm still hopeful) so between now and three years from now the scale on which schools are graded could have changed drastically and therefore so could their rankings.

    Good luck!

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  • I personally take API scores with a grain of salt, but I have the advantage of knowing the area and schools very, very well so I know what affects some of the scores for these particular schools. It also depends on what you are looking for in an education. The schools with the highest API in my area are very much "teach to the test" schools with a lot of repetition and memorization. One school with one of the lowest is and has always been more of a project based learning and has some of the best teachers in the district - but the lowest scores.


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  • Rather than looking at API scores, it's much easier to look at "state rankings" and "similar school rankings" as an indicator of how well a school is doing for the population it's serving. I can say, from an educational policy perspective, that schools with ranks 7+ have very little chance of causing your kids harm in their educational path. It doesn't mean they'll be brilliant or guarantee them a path to college.

    If you want to ensure that you'll be moving into a school district that will always do "well" (aka. have a ranking of 8+) ... move into a historically high performing small school district in an affluent area. Otherwise, fluctuations in staffing, budgets (local and state), and changing demographic populations may influence the quality of education over the length of time your student is in school.

    Also, realize that schools in CA that perform well and have extra perks... they don't use their funding... they use their parents funding. So be expected to spend an extra $3000-$5000 (average parental contribution at these high achieving districts) per year to supplement their educaiton.

    Only you can determine what is an ideal school for your children: sports, extra activities, commuting distance so you can be involved at your school, K-8/K-5/K-12, diversity, etc. 

    And... as someone mentioned previously... the landscape of K-12 education will be going through yet another minescape as the "Race to the Top" grants emerge next year from the federal level. It's unsure if CA will qualify at this point, but essentially, the way that schools measure success and the instruments they use will be changing no matter what.

  • now i am where did you buy your home that's closing? What school district is this? : )
  • image W.E.2/12/05:
    now i am where did you buy your home that's closing? What school district is this? : )

    Do you mean me?  We're buying in Carmichael (Sacramento area).  San Juan Unified.  I only really investigated the schools near the homes we looked at in our area and the neighborhoods we loved.

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  • I work in educational sales. Sacramento area is in my territory. If you have any questions about specific schools- there is a possibility I could give you some inside scoop.

    Scores are tough to interp.. There are a lot of factors that can feed into the scores (administrations, teachers, economic status of district/school). I have seen schools go from bottom of the barrel to top school within a year. Turn over can make a huge difference. In my experience, most of the teachers do what they "have to do" to get by. The truly exceptional teachers that go above and beyond are unfortunately far and few between.


  • If it were me, I choose the safest area, with the cleanest neighborhoods, with the best schools.   Visit the neighborhoods --- watch the kids interact --- and ultimately do what's best for you.  Scores do change but make sure you compare apples to apples.    I recently heard the superintendent of schools for placer county talk and it was really enlightening.  I agree that it's true that the socio-economic factors really effect the scores.  
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  • We just bought a house and school district was THE most important thing in our search. We bought a small, old house that needs work, but it's in a great neighborhood w/AWESOME schools kindergarten through high school so we're planning to be there for a long, long time.
  • Hi there,

    I'm a Realtor in Los Altos/Mountain View so I thought I'd chime in with my thoughts. Hope you don't mind :)

    API scores are a very important factor when evaluating a school. They also have a very real effect on property values. I would encourage you to buy in the best location you can based on both your own needs (proximity to school, family etc) and also external forces such as school scores, crime rates, property value history, stability of the neighborhood etc. API scores are a good way to determine if one is a good school or not but it certainly isn't the only factor. It is good start. Don't underestimate the importance of a good API score.

    Another concern that I think of as a parent is that if you are in a school with a lot of kids that need extra attention because they are not performing well, students that are doing better can soemtimes be overlooked. Or if my child is doing ok but needs just a little help, will they be missed? This is the kind of thing I think about as a mom.

    So the golden rule still applies: location location location! Professionally, I would say take less house in a better location, it will protect your asset more than anything else.

    Good luck & enjoy! Feel free to page me if you ever have RE questions, I'm glad to share my experience with my fellow bumpies :)


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  • PS forgot to add the link to the state website :)


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