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Can We Trust Privately Run School Rating Systems?

BOULDER, CO (April 13, 2023) – School ratings are a ubiquitous feature of the U.S. educational system. Following the federal requirements for states to report school performance with a standardized measure of accountability, non-state organizations such as and Niche have drawn on states’ publicly available information to create their own consumer-oriented rating systems.

NEPC today released a policy brief, Consumer-Oriented School Rating Systems and Their Implications for Educational Equity, in which author Jeanne M. Powers of Arizona State University examines these consumer-oriented rating systems, their cultural effects, how they work in practice, and their implications for educational equity.

Professor Powers describes the growing evidence base about these rating systems, their purpose purportedly being to help families navigate increasingly complex school choice options. One consistent research finding is that schools’ ratings, or the measures that comprise school ratings, are associated with schools’ demographic characteristics, such as students’ race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. The association between ratings and demographics is stronger for status metrics (or measures of a school’s performance at a specific moment in time) and weaker but still influential for growth metrics (or measures of a school’s performance trends over time). Status metrics tend to generate lower ratings for racially diverse schools, while growth metrics tend to generate higher ratings for them. School demographics also shape the way parents and other stakeholders respond to surveys or provide descriptive comments about schools.

Not surprisingly, school ratings shape how the general public and parents perceive schools, with negative scores or comments having a particularly strong influence. School ratings can also influence the work of school personnel and the value of houses in the neighborhoods surrounding schools.

Parents who consult school ratings often rely on status metrics and thus avoid racially diverse schools. This could change with expanded use of growth metrics, but that shift is unlikely to happen without policy intervention. The format and display of ratings can also influence perceptions.

The choices made by those running consumer-oriented ratings systems are driven in large part by their status as private businesses. This is apparent from some of the consumer-oriented ratings system websites that offer gateways into multiple fee-generating services (beyond the free initial searches). Further, by requiring users to provide personal information to use such advanced search features as school comparison tools, the websites enable non-state organizations to collect valuable information about families that can be sold to others.

Because parents and others see consumer-oriented rating systems as trusted sources of information, policymakers should understand the implications and outcomes associated with them. To the extent that the information they provide reflects schools’ demographics rather than school’s contributions to students’ academic growth, consumer-oriented ratings systems may also contribute to the acceleration or deepening of residential and school segregation, particularly in the wake of the pandemic and widening test score gaps. To that end, Professor Powers provides recommendations for both policymakers and the organizations that create and maintain the ratings systems.

Find Consumer-Oriented School Rating Systems and Their Implications for Educational Equity, by Jeanne M. Powers, at:


This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our mission is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence and support a multiracial society that is inclusive, kind, and just. Visit us at: