How Do You Evauluate a Private School's Academic Performance?

Updated on June 29, 2009
A.K. asks from Corona, CA
15 answers

Does anyone know how to evaluate a private school's academic performance? With the public school system, you can look online at their Accountability Report and compare it to other schools. Not sure how that works in the private system. Trying to decide which school to put my son into and want to make sure it is a challenging one academically.

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answers from San Diego on

My kids attend a private school, and I didn't do this, but I know parents who have requested academic reports on the school and the school provided it. Also ask them for MAP testing results, if they do MAP testing, and testing scores (some schools call it Star testing or SAT testing).

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answers from Los Angeles on

Dear A.,

I spent many years as a teacher, both in public and private schools. As a private school teacher, I found that most of the other teachers did not have teaching credentials. Private schools do not require that. That is not to say that all private school teachers are unqualified. Many of them are excellent. However, many parents are under the mistaken notion that 'private' school means better. This is not necessarily the case. A private school is, ultimately, a business. Again, not that all private schools are bad. Many are quite good, however, after experiencing both from the inside, I found myself thinking that private school was often a waste of money. The single most important factor in terms of a child's academic success is parent involvement. If you are committed to staying involved, being supportive and exposing your child to as many opportunities as possible then it really doesn't matter what school your child is at.

That being said, if I were interviewing a private school, here are some things I would ask:
What are the teacher qualifications? How long have most of their teachers been on staff?
What are the most common social issues that arise? (Private schools are often populated by families who are financially very successful. This can create a lot of pressure for kids and teach them to focus on material things rather than fostering deep relationships and a love of learning.)
In what ways are the parents involved? Are parents free to observe the classrooms at will?
What are the most common discipline issues at the school and how are they handled?
In what ways does the staff ensure that your child is doing well socially? (Some private school teachers meet weekly to discuss each and every student and their progress both academically and socially.)

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to contact me if I can be of further assistance.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

You can't, that's the problem.
I am a fully credentialed teacher and have taught in both private and public. Some private schools allow calculators & dictionaries... on state tests which, of course, changes results. Many private schools are more concerned w/tuition than teaching. We were told not to give a child less than a B or C depending on how many siblings $, they had. It is RARE to find a credentialed teacher in a private school and curriculum suffers as a result. However, it's tough to see because your child will get great 'grades' because it is a business, not a school for learning.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi, A.,

I concur with most, if not all, of the suggestions already given. As a former teacher (mostly high school) who taught for over ten years, I would recommend observing the STUDENTS at the school as much as allowed by the administrators. I think teachers play an important role in a child's life, but I think that classmates play an even more important role in a child's life than do his teachers.

In addition, drive or walk through the neighborhood in which each school is located. I've found that no matter how much a school is touted, rich people, whose kids, on average, tend to do better academically, possibly because of access to more and higher quality services in life, won't send their kids to a school they consider "down and out" and thus unsafe. Even when it comes to private schools, generally, kids who come from more affluent families and will provide more academic competition for your child will stay in more affluent neighborhoods, and kids who come form less affluent families, even if offered a chance to attend school in a rich neighborhood, will not attend the schools in those affluent neighborhoods, which almost always offer a child more academic competition. I am not saying that all children who attend schools in poorer areas will fail school or life. A few times, I've seen some kids in "poor" schools, including private schools, do amazing things, like doing all their classwork while classmates were running in and out of class, yelling, vandalizing property and stealing teachers' possessions, because they were internally motivated.

Also, talk to as many parents of students at that school as possible. (Try to find parents who are satisfied AND dissatisfied with the school.)

If you really want to know how much your child might be challenged, try to talk to some teachers, including new teachers that have the least academically advanced class in a particular grade. Find out how much homework the teacher assigns and how much of it is actually completed and how well it is done by all his students. Teachers have less incentive to paint a pretty picture than do most principals. (That being said, I find some principals, especially in public schools, refreshingly honest and modest.)

Ask the principal how many/what percentage of teachers at the school have a California Clear Credential, not just an Emergency credential. Generally, teachers who possess a Clear Credential have more training and more experience than those who do not.

Don't assume that sending your child to a private school will prevent or even reduce the chance that he or she will smoke, use drugs, have sex, etc. Several people, including my husband and co-workers in various industries, have told me that they were sent to private school to "straighten out," meaning quit smoking, using drugs, behaving badly, etc. and that they found more of their kind in private school! My ex was sent to private school and my ex's brother went to some great schools, but they still found ways to be "bad" and people with whom they could do those "bad" things.

When your child is nearly old enough to enter high school, find out how many of the students at the school that year took Advanced Placement (AP) courses AND passed the Advanced Placement exams. Principals like to brag about the number/percentage of the students at their school were enrolled in AP classes, but this number/percentage is meaningless without the number/percentage that passed. At my last school, the principal loved to tell parents of students or prospective students how many students were enrolled in AP class but, at least when I was present, never informed them that ALL of the students in some of the courses, such as AP Chemistry, in spite of having superb teachers, failed the AP exam. The number/percentage of students who take Honors courses is meaningless as Honors can be defined however the faculty and administration desire and thus varies greatly from school to school.

In deciding where to send my children, I will consider not only the academic standing of the school but also the range and quality of extracurricular activities. If my children seem very happy doing only schoolwork, especially that in core academic subjects, such as math, English and history, then extracurricular aspects won't matter much. However, if this is not the case, then I will consider the breadth and depth of the extracurricular program in deciding where to send my children.

Good luck in helping your son find a good fit!

Lynne E

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Reno on

Sorry I am late with responding...I just wanted to say good luck with your search. I had my daughter in the same private school from preschool to second grade. I honestly thought I was doing the best thing for her education, with some lifestyle changes I needed to place my daughter into public school. I was so scared that she would not fit in, or be too far ahead (I was told by many that the private school she was in was advanced) I was WRONG, when she started the third grade she was behind in all subjects, more of a beinging first grade level. The public school worked with her and be the end of third grade she was in advanced classes in science and math. She recently scored a perfect on her MAP testing! Look carefully into all private schools, talk to other parents and ask what kind of homework and work thier child is doing and what grade they are in, then compare that to what the public shool is doing in the same grade. ASK ASK ASK alot of questions. Good luck to you.



answers from Las Vegas on

Just remember that a private school has options on who is enrolled and stays at their school. Public schools do not have that choice. Public schools must accept learning disabilities and behavior issues.



answers from San Diego on

Hello, This information should be available for prospective parents to view. I would ask at the school. I would also ask if the teachers are credentialed. My daughter's ex-boyfriend is a "teacher" at a local Christian middle school. During the last fires in San Diego county, our daughter was afraid that her work place was going to burn and she mentioned that she didn't know where she would work. He told her that they needed a teacher there and when she reminded him that she didn't have a teaching credential, he said that she didn't need one. This from a man who wants nothing to do with their precious baby daughter.
K. K.



answers from Los Angeles on

I was actually just laid off from teaching at private school. Parents and students are more concerned with test scores they take towards the end of the year. Also, do not be afraid to evaluate the teacher, look at the curriculum to see what they are teaching. Usually in private schools they try to cover most things in the books. Where I taught, it was mandatory we finish the books, elsewhere I am not sure. Also, look at activities that are offered to your child throughout the school year as well as after school. Find out how many students are in one class. The private school I taught out, there are 30 kids in 3rd for the next school year with only one teacher. That is too many, especially when its the parents paying good money to send their child there. A lot of things you may find out on-line may be exaggerated, so you do need to go in personally to evaluate the school. Office people, owner, principal, teachers will always paint a prettier picture, however asking the right questions and observing will help you make the right decision. If you do choose private school, remember you have a stronger voice there versus public school and if there is something you do not agree with, speak up. I am just telling you this from all my experiences this past school year. Also, your community may have one or 2 private schools, do not be afraid to expand into other areas. Curious as to which area you are from. Let me know if you have any other questions, I would be happy to help. C.



answers from Los Angeles on

From:Kim TDate:Thu. Jun. 25, 2009
Just remember that a private school has options on who is enrolled and stays at their school. Public schools do not have that choice. Public schools must accept learning disabilities and behavior issues.

I'm not sure how to take this??? Are you saying that being with kids with learning disabilities and behaviors issues is reason to consider not having your child in a public school?



answers from Honolulu on

Here is a link for you, per private schools in your area:

Just do a Google Search on "private schools in Corona, CA." for your area.

Also, you might want to see if there is a private school association or something... in my state, there is an organization like that.

Also, the best thing is to do a on site school "tour." With your son. Academics is not the only thing to look at... it is the OVERALL atmosphere/teaching approach/school philosophy/structure (rigid or creative) etc.

Good luck,



answers from San Diego on

Private schools aren't privy to the same tests because they don't receive State funding. They aren't required to take the tests, so essentially you may never know.

State API scores are really less a reflection on the school than on the students you will be surrounding your child with.



answers from Los Angeles on

Try this site:
But the best way to get feedback is to talk to other parents & kids that attend the schools you are interested in.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi A.,

Most private schools also test as do the public schools. You should be able to see the results of these and should be able to compare with other private schools. There are many differences in private vs. public schools, both academically and socially.

If your private school is a good one, they will have good teachers. If the teachers do not perform to standards, they can fire them much easier and quicker than public schools.

Keep in mind that class sizes usually run around 30. A large class, but usually in the lower classes there is an assistant. However, for the most part, these kids are here because the parents care. The kids are expected to behave by both the parents and the teachers. If they do not, there are consequences.

As a parent, you can make a difference. Most private schools have some sort of parent hour committment. I have seen many ideas come to fruition when the principal and board work with the parents to make them happen.

I have also been fortunate enough to be on the board at two different schools, and I can say that I have never witnessed anyone not being suspended or asked to leave because they pay tuition. On the contrary, I have seen families asked to leave due to academic performance or behavior.

Socially, at a private school, there is more of a community atmosphere. You will get to know the families your child goes to school with.

Private and Public schools both have pros and cons. You need to decide what is best for your kids and your family. If you choose a private school, make sure you check it out and feel comfortable with your choice. Good luck to you.




answers from Los Angeles on

Test scores. I used to teach in private schools and they were all about the test scores.

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