Making the Grade: A Look into Our Top US School District Websites Benchmark Report

For school districts around the United States, recent events have placed even greater reliance on digital communication channels. Though school websites have always been an important source of information, the past year and a half has been marked by distance learning and optimization of digital tools to connect with students and parents alike.

And though school district websites need to accommodate the needs of all their visitors, including those with disabilities, not every website makes the grade.

Beyond offering students and parents relevant and timely updates, these websites have become a central part of how school districts position themselves towards the public, attract new students, and share progress.

With this increased focus on their digital channels, some school districts have also come under scrutiny for not observing certain practices which can exclude a part of the community, particularly if they’re not ensuring web accessibility and compliance is prioritized on their sites.

To gain some insight on this topic, we analyzed the websites of the 50 largest school districts in the US to find out how they were performing in the areas which have the most impact on their user experience. Our report focused on web accessibility, content quality, site performance, SEO, and uptime. Here’s what we found.

Web Accessibility

How well do US school district websites perform when it comes to ensuring that their websites are accessible to all visitors?

Though web accessibility has become an important topic as of late due to changes in legislation, we found that the average across all 50 school district websites fell short of meeting our recommended accessibility compliance score of over 70%. For context, our platform rates sites as excellent if they score somewhere between 80-100 points in web accessibility.

When designing their websites, school districts need to consider whether these support visitors using digital assistive technologies. These tools need to be taken into account when designing a website to ensure digital inclusion, since visitors could face difficulty, for example, when trying to use a screen reader if key information can’t be read due to its format.

Additional aspects school district websites may need to revisit are things like color contrast and fonts, since often, certain elements in their branding may not always be optimal for users with specific vision impairments.

Content Quality Assurance

Aside from accessibility, school districts need to ensure the content on their websites is up-to-date and correct. Without a quality assurance process in place, it can be difficult to keep up with different pages that aren’t regularly updated and may end up with broken links or images.

School district websites often have multiple contributors (over 85% of these sites have more than one contributor*), which can make it even more challenging to review all the content on a site regularly.

In our report, we found that while many of the school districts at the top of the ranking are scoring in the excellent range (between 80-100), the average across all schools analyzed was a failing score.

As school district websites have such an essential function within their communities, we recommend that they adopt more rigorous quality assurance standards, and consider using software to help streamline that process.

Performance

Website performance is a category which gives an overall score regarding a site’s optimization according to Google Lighthouse standards. Just like school districts aim for excellence, so must their websites, especially when utilizing Lighthouse performance standards.

On website performance, we found that while there were a few nearly perfect scores amongst the top ranking school district websites (and we salute the top performers), we saw that the average score was within the average range.

Providing their audience with an average experience can leave many visitors of school district websites feeling unengaged, and unlikely to revisit the site beyond if and when absolutely necessary.

SEO

Though SEO may not be the top priority for school districts, not observing some of the best practices can spill over into other areas these websites actually wish to improve upon.

Direct traffic likely accounts for a large portion of website traffic for school district websites. Yet, good SEO isn’t just about having a website rank high in SERP. It also impacts ensuring that a site doesn’t have any elements that could potentially detract from the user experience of its visitors.

Overall, school district websites scored cumulatively their highest average in this category. However, only one school district’s website managed to garner an excellent score, meaning the rest could aim to improve their SEO by reviewing their current practices.

Response Time

A factor that can greatly impact the user experience, performance, and SEO is a website’s response time.

School district websites, in particular, may wish to routinely check their site’s response time. Slower internet connections or mobile network speeds could make a site load time excessive, leading to user frustration and potential site abandonment.

We were surprised to learn that the average response time score put many school district websites in the fail range. Use of a tool like our Heartbeat monitoring would help these sites detect crashes and slow response times in real time to greatly improve their user experience.

Uptime

Lastly, we looked at how school district websites performed on their uptime.

Though ensuring school district websites are available 24/7, so that visitors can access it anytime is a given for most, we were pleased to discover that the majority of websites analyzed for our report did indeed score a passing grade.

Any downtime of a public website such as a school district website could cause confusion for its audience, so it’s great to see these sites performing so well in this regard. Still, a little precaution goes a long way, so we recommend the use of a monitoring tool to ensure that any potential downtime is detected and addressed as soon as possible.

Grading School District Websites

After scanning the 50 largest school district websites, we’ve learned that while there are areas that certainly need improvement—such as content quality assurance, response time, and web accessibility, there are others where they’ve been performing well, particularly in uptime and SEO.

School district websites are a key communication channel for their communities, and as such, holding them to the highest standards will ensure that these websites continue to be destinations that offer a place for students, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders to gather information and stay updated. After all, sharing knowledge is what schools do best.
*according to findings from a July 2021 survey included in our Benchmark report.

Access the full Top US School District Websites 2021 Benchmark report by Monsido

Find out if your school district was one of the top performers in the report, and get additional qualitative insights from our 2021 NSPRA survey.

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