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Maryland, Virginia and the U.S. News best high schools list

As I said in the previous post, I asked some follow up questions of Paul Gazzerro, the Standard and Poor's analyst who leads the number crunching for the U.S. News America's Best High Schools list. I had been getting emails from Washington area readers asking why no Maryland schools, and only two Virginia schools, made their top 100 list. (The top 100 list of high schools I do for Newsweek, using a different formula, has ten Maryland and Virginia schools this year.)

Gazzerro was quick to respond. Here are my questions and his answers:

Mathews:

Two questions--first, Maryland-based survey expert Sid Groeneman speculated that the absence of disadvantaged student data for Maryland, as noted on your list, might have prevented you from putting any Md. schools in the top 100. He said the footnote on yr list indicated 8 states did not provide disadvantaged student data. Did that actually have any effect on you ability to rate any schools in those states?

Second question: Thomas Jefferson and Langley high schools, the two Virginia schools on your top 100, have almost no disadvantaged students. It is about 1 percent low income students for each. Since you look at how low-income students are performing, does this make it difficult for you to measure how those students are doing and decide where to put their school on your list? Are they under the required number for reporting those low-income student results for No Child Left Behind? I know of some schools in the northeast that have zero low-income kids. What happens to your measuring process in those cases?

Gazzerro:

Thanks for the opportunity to respond. . . As to the subgroup data that we use to screen schools in the second step of the selection method, it is true that there were eight states where we were unable to obtain the data that we use for this step. However, we did review each school's subgroup data in order to perform the step 2 selection screen.

The approach that we've taken in the eight states is to manually review each school's subgroup proficiency rates in comparison with the state averages within each state using their report cards or similar such website reporting. This process is cumbersome (i.e., must be done by hand), but is performed for each school that meets the criterion under step 1. Thus, for the Montgomery County schools, these data were never relevant, as they had failed to meet the step 1 selection criterion, and thus were no longer considered.

The "honorable mention" review focuses exclusively on the college readiness index, and thus did not require a review of subgroup data. So in other words, not having these data for all schools in the state as a dataset did not have any impact upon the selection process; it just made performing step 2 more cumbersome.

To your second question about TJ and Langley (and low-poverty schools in general) - we use statistical regression to determine the relationship between student poverty rates and student performance in schools within the state. The scatterplot in the technical guide shows that we can evaluate the statistically expected performance for schools at any level of student poverty, from as little as zero percent to as much as 100%. In neither Maryland nor Virginia did we find high schools that reported zero percent poverty (Maryland's range was between 1.4% and 68.8% for 2007-08), but there are other states in which true zeros do exist, as well as states where true 100s exist.

So, to be clear, there is no requirement that schools have students who are economically disadvantaged in order to be evaluated. As you point out, many schools have so few of these students that their results are not reported under NCLB rules (or perhaps student privacy rules). The only impact is that for these schools, they cannot be evaluated for step 2 (for this student subgroup), and thus would pass through this step (since there is no reason to hold a school's demographics against it, as many have no control over student admissions).

I hope that this helps clear up some misconceptions regarding what our selection method requires/expects of schools.

For more from Jay, go to http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle


For all the Post's Education coverage, please see http://washingtonpost.com/education

By Jay Mathews  | December 16, 2009; 6:31 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  I find that it's always good to hear how people interpret my attempts to be clear, Thanks for the opportunity to respond, and as much as he and I talked it through, as I would like to clear up Sid's misunderstanding. I spoke to Sid many times several months back, as sometimes it reveals that I need to take a second - or third - crack at eliminating misperceptions and misunderstandings., it appears that some things still were not clear. In his defense  
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