U.S. News and World Report rankings create mixed feelings

Crystal Ren, Staff Writer

Two annual high school ranking lists were recently released; one by The Washington Post, and the other by U.S. News and World Report. In the first, Schreiber stood 38th in New York state, and 470th nationwide. In the second, Schreiber was ranked at 40th in the state and 241st nationally. The two ranking systems utilize different criteria to place schools.

According to Dr. Brad Fitzgerald, these numbers should be taken with caution.

“These rankings are worth looking at, and there’s value there, but we shouldn’t overstate the value. They try to measure greatness, but they’re measuring greatness using their own formulas, which leave out so many other, important, factors,” said Dr. Fitzgerald.

With regards to the accuracy and importance of rankings, some students believe that they are circumstantial and superficial.

“It doesn’t really matter whether or not rankings are accurate, though that is entirely determined by the methods involved, but because it’s a profitable industry, people are going to rank schools regardless,” said junior Chris Wilson.

Jay Matthews, the creator of The Washington Post list, uses the “Challenge Index” to rate schools. This is a ratio found by taking the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given, and dividing by the number of graduating seniors.

The U.S. News and World Report ranking, on the other hand, takes more information into account. According to an expository section on its website, U.S. News and World Report uses three factors to rank schools.

The first step involves analyzing reading and math scores on the students’ state tests in order to determine the performance of the students when compared to the state average. The next step juxtaposes the academic performance of “the school’s least-advantaged students – black, Hispanic and low-income,” with the statewide average of the same group’s performance. The third and last step is the same as that of the Jay Matthews’ list’s sole criteria, except it also accounts for the students’ AP test performance.

To many, the U.S. News and World Report method seems much more fair.

“There has to be least some measure of aptitude in the AP classes. The only-AP criteria isn’t really fair. I feel like college courses are going to be significantly different from our AP classes,” said junior Paige Torres.

However, Matthews anticipated these concerns and addressed them accordingly in a piece in the Washington Post.

“I found that many high schools kept those rates artificially high by allowing only top students to take the courses. These coursesare important because they give average students a chance to experience the trauma of heavy college reading lists and long, analytical college  examinations,” said Matthews. “Research has found that even low-performing students who got a 2 on an AP test did significantly better in college than similar students who did not take AP.”

But the importance of rankings is a controversial topic. People disagree about the significance of the certain set of test scores believed by test rankers to indicate college readiness.

“Rankings don’t hold water without scores being taken into account, but just in general, AP’s don’t represent the schools,” said junior Sandra Riano. “It’s not how well you perform on standardized tests, it’s how you use the material you learn on the outside, on your own that counts. Rankings in general are important but not in the way they are done currently.”

Some administrators express similar feelings.

“Philosophically, I don’t believe any school should be ranked. Part of the problem you get when you rank schools, is that ranking on a certain set of criteria does so with broad strokes,” said Guidance Director Mr. Hank Hardy. “Rankings don’t address all the issues. College and career readiness of a school can’t be limited to just the number of kids taking APs or the number who pass.”

As for what other criteria would make these rankings more comprehensive, Mr. Hardy said, “Where does it show placement and retention in post-secondary education? That’s a more important indicator. The current formulas also don’t account for non-AP college-credit courses. These classes match college curricula but don’t require an exam. Does not having an AP exam make the kids less ready? And you have to look at the diversity in our school. The makeup of schools and the socio-economic status of the varied students can’t be overlooked either.”