The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


Unreliable Rankings

By: Anita Alem

The US News and World Report recently released their high school rankings, along with the Daily Beast and Newsweek rankings. MSJ ranked tenth in California and 79 nationwide, performing worse than it did last year, and the school remained unranked in Newsweek’s top 25 schools nationwide. At MSJ, however, these numbers have been met not so much with enthusiasm as with apathy, raising the question: do these rankings even matter? With a closer look at the criteria these organizations used to judge the excellence of a school, it’s easy to see that these numbers are not meaningful.

To create the annual report, US News teamed with the American Institute for Research. The two organizations conducted a study in which they evaluated schools based on three categories: the student body’s performance compared with that of the state using standardized test scores, the performance of least-advantaged students, and the number of APs taken and passed. These categories are meant to represent, as a whole, “college readiness index,” out of 100 points. However, standardized tests often don’t reflect the true intelligence of a student body. In a study conducted by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, researchers found that these tests are inaccurate and encourage overly academic, as opposed to practical, primary schooling. US News and World Report’s methods also raise the question of how they compared states to each other to find national rankings, since standardized tests differ widely from state to state.

Moreover, 15 high schools nationwide achieved a perfect, 100 out of 100 college readiness level, which indicates that every student at this school is completely ready for college. Obviously, if schools are meeting the highest bar, there is a problem with the way the rankings are scaled, as there should be no perfect school, let alone 15 perfect schools. The name of this scale is in itself an absurd name, as measuring college preparedness is much more complex than these organizations indicate. It’s also important to remember that schools that did not fill out the survey that the organization sent were not included within these lists. The lists even include schools that are relatively new, including Attleboro High school, which was unaccredited until 2006.

As AP Physics teacher Jack Fendell puts it, “The problem with the rankings is that they change from one year to the next. That’s why we can never prepare for the next year.”

Newsweek and the Daily Beast utilized a similar methodology, including graduation rates, matriculation to college, and AP testing, to create a widely-criticized “Challenge Index”. However, instead of considering pass rates, Newsweek only considers number of AP tests taken, and not even whether students passed the exams or not. Anyone is welcome to taking an AP test, whether or not they took the class, so this measurement is meaningless in terms of how “challenging” a high school is. Graduation rates have been long criticized as a poor measurement of a school’s performance, as some can take more than four years to graduate. It is also not unheard of for high school students to take a year off before matriculating, and the rankings give schools with these students a disadvantage.

In the end, these organizations are not using these rankings to target schools or administrators. They are appealing to parents who are trying to determine which school to send their child. Parents will rarely move out of or into an area if they are already settled in and their children have already been attending a high school. These rankings are merely reflective of property values. The unreliability of these rankings also raises concerns about the validity of these organizations’ college rankings. Especially at MSJ, too many students use these rankings to determine what universities to apply to, when they reflect such a one-dimensional view of schools. These rankings can have even graver impacts on the students attending these schools. Sadly, many schools focus on simply making a certain rank instead of on the education of their students, which encourages cheating and leaves struggling students behind. Ultimately, the emphasis we place as a society on completely meaningless rankings hurts students.

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