What's with the new U.S. News high school list?
I occasionally communicate with Montgomery County school superintendent Jerry D. Weast, but usually it is one of his people who call to set up the appointment. Yesterday he was so bothered about something he called himself. It wasn't me who upset him, but my friends and fellow members in good standing of the School Ranking Scoundrels club, the editors of U.S. News & World Report.
They just came out with their latest list of America's Best High Schools. Weast was astonished to see that none of the three Montgomery County schools that had been on the U.S. News top 100 list in the past were mentioned this time. In fact there were no Maryland, Virginia or D.C. schools on the list at all, except for Langley, number 47, and the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County which was, as usual, number one in the country.
Weast wanted me to find out from U.S. News why this was. I told him I thought it was better if he contacted the magazine himself, and gave him the email address of the U.S. News director of data research, Robert Morse, whose work for the last several decades, beginning with the magazine's America's Best Colleges list, I highly admire.
I am uncomfortable saying more about this, because of my personal involvement in rating high schools. I invented and still produce each year Newsweek's America's Top High Schools list. That list started a decade before the U.S. News list, and rates schools in a somewhat different way, although many schools appear on both lists. I exclude very selective schools like Jefferson from my list, but include about 70 percent of Washington area schools, including every school in Montgomery County, based on their students' participation rates in college level exams like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.
Thus anything I say about the U.S. News list may be misinterpreted. Anything negative I say will be blamed on the fact that we are competitors. Anything positive will be attributed to the fact that I welcomed the U.S. News list, and that every year it comes out the number of online hits on the Newsweek list soars, probably because people want to compare the ratings their schools got on both lists or because they are confused as to which list has just come out. My most recent national list appeared in June. The next is scheduled to appear about that same time next year. My latest rankings of all the Washington area high schools will appear next month in the Post.
I can, however, quote a local expert on both lists who shared with me today his ideas as to why U.S. News might have downgraded Montgomery County. He is Sid Groeneman, a survey consultant who worked on the U.S. News college list and did a great piece on both the Newsweek and U.S. News high school lists for Bethesda magazine earlier this year.
At first Groeneman said "my guess is that Montgomery Co. schools are conspicuously missing from the Top 100 (Gold Medal list) because none of the MD schools provide Disadvantaged Student data - a requirement for Gold Medal Status - must be in the top half in the state on minority and low-income student performance to qualify. Why MD schools didn't provide that data I don't know." Groeneman saw that eight other states also did not provide this data.
Then, after thinking about it some more, Groeneman said: "the reason Mont Co schools were left off the Top 100 list this time might be U.S News's Stage 1 hurdle: Must score > 1 standard deviation above their expected score on state assessment tests GIVEN THEIR POVERTY-ADJUSTED PERFORMANCE. Why Whitman, Wooten and Churchill fell down this year on that measure is a puzzle. Hopefully, Bob Morse will provide a definitive reason for the ranking - if not an explanation for the decline the schools' performance on that measure. But my original thought - why MD's schools did not provide/collect disadvantaged students' scores (U.S. News's Stage 2 hurdle) - also remains a mystery."
Groeneman has asked Morse for more information. I will post here anything Morse says in reply. Weast has sent out a memo complaining that the U.S. News method "relies too heavily on Maryland state assessments."
U.S. News recognizes the worth of several Montgomery County and other local schools in another part of their list. I like these rankings because they stimulate good conversations on my favorite topic, how to make high schools better. I will have more to say about that when my Challenge Index ratings of our local schools come out Jan. 18.
Follow Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/
For all the Post's Education coverage, please see http://washingtonpost.com/education
| December 11, 2009; 12:23 PM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Newsweek high school list, Robert Morse, Sid Groeneman, U.S. News high school list, school ranking
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