Homebuyers too fixated on simplified school rankings?

Buyers paying big premiums for homes served by top-ranked schools

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Buyers may be reading too much into simplified school rankings offered on real estate sites, paying premiums of $200,000 or more for homes served by schools that score only slightly better than other schools in the same school district, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

School district officials in San Mateo County, Calif. say real estate professionals are part of the problem, because they rely on test scores and school ranking sites to help sell homes. They’re holding an event next month to give Realtors a better understanding of what qualities make for a good school.

The Chronicle described a “feeding frenzy” for homes in the city of San Carlos, where the school district’s four elementary schools all score “well above” the state average.

The lowest performing elementary school in the district, Brittan Acres, scored 880 on the state’s 1,000-point Academic Performance Index. While the state considers scores of 800 or above ideal, the other three elementary schools in the district all score above 900.

One buyer withdrew an offer on a home served by Brittan Acres and fired his Realtor when the agent — who serves on the board of a neighboring school district — insisted that the school was fine.

Educators say test scores can often reflect the makeup of a school’s population. Low-income students and those who speak English as a second language can dent overall scores, but high-scoring schools don’t always have the best teachers or programs.

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Buyers may miss such subtleties. Homes in San Carlos that are served by an elementary school in neighboring Redwood City, Clifford Elementary, sell for 10 to 15 percent less than those served by the San Carlos district, the Chronicle reported, even though Clifford scored a “respectable” 814 on the state index.

Public schools need ambassadors, and we need Realtors to be those ambassadors

Clifford has a greater proportion of low-income students and English learners, but they score better on standardized tests than students at Brittan Acres, the Chronicle reported.

“What we tell parents is take a look at the school itself,” the president of the Redwood City district’s school board, Shelly Masur, told the Chronicle.

Ideally, she said, real estate agents would tour not only homes on the market, but schools.

“Public schools need ambassadors, and we need Realtors to be those ambassadors,” Masur said

The way homebuyers and real estate agents are using test scores to shop for homes “exemplifies the national reliance on test scores to judge schools, which was established under the federal No Child Left Behind Act more than a decade ago,” the Chronicle’s Jill Tucker concluded.

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