May 11, 2005

How Newsweek chose "the best"

Newsweek has compiled a list of the 1,000 Best High Schools in the US. High schools were selected using only the following ratio:

Newsweek's Best High Schools List uses a ratio, the number of Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) tests taken by all students at a school in 2004, divided by the number of graduating seniors. Although that doesn't tell the whole story about a school, it's one of the best measures available to compare a wide range of students' readiness for higher-level work, which is more crucial than ever in the postindustrial age.

Blogger Michael Kantor is incredulous:

Why is this list bogus? Because the sole criterion for ranking schools is the average number of Advanced Placement (AP) test taken per student. The grades on the AP tests don’t even matter! Nor do any other measures of academic achievement obtained by the school’s students. If people ever start taking this list seriously, this will create the obvious incentive for high schools to game the system in ways that do nothing to improve the quality of their education.

Even worse, schools that have competitive admissions are excluded, so genuine top public high schools like Stuyvesant High School (“noted for its many accomplished alumni, its rigorous academics, and for sending the most students to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of any public school in the United States”) are completely ignored.

The staff of the St. Petersburg Times are a tad surprised, too, as one of the schools making the Top Ten, Hillsborough High School, got a D from the state:

The Newsweek list is based on a single factor: the number of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at a school, divided by the number of graduating seniors. The students don't have to do well on the tests either. It matters only that they take them.

Test scores? No.

Graduation rates? Nope.

Closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities? Forget it.

Critics say the formula is simplistic. For example, a school's rank can actually improve if it has a high dropout rate.

(Via The Volokh Conspiracy.)

Posted by kswygert at May 11, 2005 04:19 PM