Newsweek's flawed system


June 2, 2003, midnight | By Luke Bostian | 17 years, 5 months ago


Upon reading Newsweek's recent cover story on the "Top 100 High Schools in America," one glaringly obvious fact pops out: of the five Montgomery County high schools on the list, four are in wealthy areas of the county and one, Richard Montgomery, recruits students to focus solely on the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. The Newsweek Top 100 is at best an incomplete rating system.

Writer Jay Mathews devised the system based on the number of AP or IB tests given at a school as compared to the number of seniors graduating from that school. Schools in which half of the graduating class is recruited based on GPA or test scores were not admitted to the list. According to Mathews, this means that "average" students are measured by the list rather than students who are academically exceptional.

According to Mathews, the list "does not work well with schools that have few or no average students." However, the presence of Wootton, Walter Johnson, Churchill and Whitman high schools on that list makes it quite evident that Mathews paid no attention to any factors other than AP percentage. Most students at these schools are not "average." They are, on the whole, wealthier and whiter than the national average and therefore prone to have better scores on standardized tests of all kinds than the national average.

Inferencing from that bit of evidence, it can be assumed that most of the other schools are from wealthy areas of the country. Horace Greeley and Rye high schools in New York, for example, both draw primarily on upper middle class students. Also, several schools on the list select students based on auditions or special admissions processes not based on GPA or test scores.

Creating an accurate way to measure something as complicated as high school performance is admittedly very difficult. Perhaps it can't be done. But there must certainly be a better way to measure the performance of schools with "average" students than to rank them solely on the ratio of a particular standardized test to a school's graduates, such as dividing Mathews's ratio by the average income of families at the school.

That would certainly put Blair, which placed 281st on an extended version of the list but has a 22% Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) rate (as compared to the five percent of Whitman students and eight percent of Churchill students who have ever been on FARMS), closer to where it belongs.



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Luke Bostian. Luke Bostian is a senior in CAP and has nothing much to say for himself. Well, actually, that's a lie. Luke has a lot to say for himself and says it all the time. So he won't bore you with it. Suffice it to say … More »

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