Challenging Credibility

I guess I didn’t stay away long enough to avoid Newsweek’s annual cover story defining America’s “Best” High Schools.

That “best” ranking, of course, is based on the tenuous (and that’s being generous) assessment tool known as the “challenge” index, which assigns each school a number based solely on the ratio between numbers of AP/IB/Cambridge tests taken and the numbers of graduating seniors.

No factoring in how well students actually did on those tests (or any other academic criteria). Ignore the quality of arts programs. Dropout rates are irrelevant. And forget completely about students in vocational or any other programs that don’t involve college prep.

Schools rise to the top of this pile if they get kids to take tests.  Lots and lots of tests.

Which results in totally meaningless scores that often produce headlines in local papers, sometimes for very strange (and somewhat amusing) reasons.  Such as this dichotomy in Houston:

Newsweek has come out with its latest ranking of the nation’s best high schools, and the Houston school district is crowing that a record number of HISD highs made it.

The usual suspects are there — DeBakey, Carnegie, Bellaire and Lamar — but joining the list this year are 11 others, including Waltrip, Chavez, Sharpstown, Milby and — WTF? Sharpstown?

The same Sharpstown that is on quite another list — HISD superintendent Terry Grier’s “Apollo 20” list of failing schools? (Lee HS, too!)

Newsweek says Sharpstown HS is among the best in the country while the superintendent says it’s one of the worst in his district.

Who’s right?

And I wonder how many other schools racked up enough tests given to make this farcical “best” list while still failing to educate the majority of their students.

One thought on “Challenging Credibility

  • June 14, 2010 at 9:55 pm
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    I worked in one of these schools two years ago. I certainly can’t speak for all schools mentioned in Newsweek, but “farcical ‘best’ list” definitely describes the one I was in.

    Students who chose AP classes were vaunted. I didn’t have those kids and my “regular” kids (who were awesome people and good students) knew it was rubbed in their face every day. It made me sick to see how poorly treated they were. No one cared about their education as long as the school stayed on “the list.”

    Reply

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