Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Update: Ranking top high schools harder than it looks

Just when you thought the dust had settled from Newsweek's attempt to rank 2,000 American high schools, the New York Times weighs in today with "Odd Math for 'Best High School List."

The problem? Newsweek's list depends entirely on one statistic: the number of Advanced Placement (AP) exams taken at the school divided by the number of graduating seniors. Whether or not students actually pass the exams doesn't figure into the equation.

The result? Many schools that rank high on Newsweek's list actually rank fairly low when federal, state, or local assessment goals are the yardstick. According to the Times, "A rating system that rewards quantity without measuring quality produces some truly bizarre results." For example,

Newsweek ranks Eastside High in Gainesville, Fla., as the sixth best high school in America. The state of Florida gives Eastside a C grade, which means there are 1,846 A or B schools rated ahead of Eastside in Florida alone. The Florida report card reveals that Eastside has 1,028 students, more than half of them African-American; only 13 percent of those 589 African-American children are reading at grade level. At the sixth best school in America?

So the debate rocks on.... How do you evaluate the quality of a school? Does it really matter? Or is the debate on what makes a school great a valuable end unto itself?

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