What Does School Quality Mean?


One of the most frequent questions we receive from families is: How do I pick the best school?

The answer is complicated, as every family’s situation is unique. At Boston School Finder, we don’t provide our own ratings for schools. Instead, we strongly believe that every family should review publicly-available data about any school in which they’re interested, and visit schools to understand their alignment to your values. 

If you are looking for more guidance on how to choose the best school for your child and family, please see our How to Choose a Great-Fit School Resource Guide

Boston School Finder recommends that every family review Accountability Data. There are two sources available for your review: 

While accountability data is an imperfect measure on its own, it offers families key pieces of information to consider during your school search. 

What does “State Level” mean in a School Profile on your website?

Our public school profiles (Boston Public Schools and all Commonwealth charter public schools) may include information about their “State Level.” A school’s State Level is one indicator of school quality assigned to public schools by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). This state level takes into account:

  • Student performance on NextGen MCAS scores, Massachusetts’ standardized state test that measures student academic learning in certain subjects

  • Student progress or growth on standardized test scores

  • High school completion rates (for high schools)

  • Whether English Learners are making progress in school

  • Whether students are attending school on a regular basis

  • Whether students are taking advanced classes

Each year the state sets goals for each school and district based on the above criteria. If schools are overall making those gains, or performing as expected in the testing subjects on the MCAS (about 85% of schools in the state), schools are assigned as one of the following categories:

  • Schools of Recognition (Best designation assigned by DESE)

  • Meeting Targets

  • Partially Meeting Targets

If students in those schools are NOT meeting those targets (about 15% of schools in the state), schools are assigned as one of the following categories:

  • Focused/Targeted Support

  • Broad/Comprehensive Support (Lowest designation assigned by DESE)

If you see “Insufficient Data” under their State Level, it may be because:

  • The school is very small and does not have enough data

  • The school is new and there is not yet enough data

  • The school does not have students in MCAS testing grades (Grades 3-8 and 10)

State Levels are updated every year by DESE. Boston School Finder makes State Level data available on our school profiles, in addition to other accountability data. You can find out more by visiting the DESE Accountability website.

What does “Tier 1,” “Tier 2,” etc. mean in a School Profile on your site?

In addition to State Levels, Boston Public Schools (BPS) uses its own School Quality Framework (SQF) to assess the performance and quality of its district schools. This system was developed by BPS and other community partners. 

Schools are assigned a score from 0-100 based on measurements in five areas: 

  1. Student Performance

  2. Teaching and Learning

  3. Family, Community, and Culture

  4. Leadership and Collaboration

  5. Student Access and Opportunities

A higher score indicates higher quality. Based on this score, each school is assigned a school quality tier from 1 to 4. Tier 1 schools have the highest score and have been designated as the highest quality schools by BPS. Tier 4 schools have the lowest scores and have been designated as the lowest quality schools by BPS.

Schools Tiers are evaluated and updated every two years by BPS. There are some schools (such as early education centers as well as special education and alternative schools) that are not given a score because they do not have students who take standardized tests or they are specialized schools.

BPS factors in both distance and its school quality tiers for its Home-Based Assignment Policy (HBAP) when providing families with their list of available school choices.

Have a Question?

Our experts will provide you with the right information to find the best school