A list of the “Best High Schools” in New York State and the country was recently released by U.S. News & World Report. According to the annual report, Hudson High School ranks 736th out of 1,212 schools ranked in the state, and was given an overall score of 47.81 out of 100. Before you gasp in shock and disappointment, you should know how third-party school ranking systems are biased and often misleading. This is especially true for schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students such as Hudson, where 69% of students fall into this category. This statistic does not make Hudson a low quality school, but it is a contributing factor in how the school is rated according to the criteria used in the U.S. News school rankings.
The U.S. News ranking system rates high schools on six factors, each with a different percentage to create an overall score out of 100:
- Student proficiency and performance on math, reading and science state tests;
- College readiness, specifically participation and performance on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams; and
- Graduation rates.
Below is an explanation of these factors as they relate to Hudson and the reasons these particular measures are problematic when it comes to “scoring” a school.
Student Proficiency & Performance on State Exams (50%)
The proficiency indicator (20%) is a measure of a schools’ student performance on math, reading and science state tests. It is based on data from the New York State Education Department. The performance score (20%) is also determined by student performance on state exams, however it is based on comparisons of proficiency scores to what U.S. News has predicted for a school with similar demographics within the state. It is unclear why the state exam predictions made by U.S. News are important factors to include when determining the quality of a school.
This ranking factor also includes a measure for “underserved student performance” (10%) that intends to measure learning outcomes among Black, Hispanic and low-income students only. According to U.S. News, “This evaluates how well this underserved subgroup scored on state assessments compared with the average for non-underserved students among schools in the same state.” It is an important factor to consider since Hudson’s student population is 69% economically disadvantaged and nearly 60% non-white, however the report is not clear about Hudson’s score in this category. In the list of ranking factors for Hudson, “underserved student performance” is not included.
Improving student proficiency on state assessments continues to be a priority for the Hudson City School District. It should be noted, however, that many factors contribute to student test scores, and some factors are more prevalent in a district like Hudson compared to more affluent communities, such as poverty, food insecurity, and non-permanent or transient housing. The District does what it can to address these issues, such as school food pantries, clothing closets, and employing social workers to support families in need, but these factors can greatly impact a student’s ability to do well in school and unfortunately they are outside of the school’s control.
College Readiness (40%)
The college readiness categories are where Hudson High School scored the lowest, but these ranking criteria are perhaps the most problematic in the U.S. News school ranking system.
The U.S. News rankings measure “college readiness” solely by “participation and performance on Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.” It accounts for 30% of a school’s overall score. The report calculates “college curriculum breadth” based on the percentage of 12th grade students who took and earned qualifying scores on multiple AP or IB exams. “Points” are awarded for seniors who take exams in multiple subjects, with the most “points” awarded for students who earn qualifying scores on four exams. It accounts for 10% of a school’s overall score.
These are extremely narrow definitions of college readiness and it is unreasonable to put so much emphasis on them when assigning a score to represent the overall quality of a school. It is especially problematic considering the high cost of taking an AP exam (almost $100 for each exam), and the cost for a school to be an IB school ($4,000 just to apply and up to $30,000 in annual fees). Under this system, Hudson High School unfairly gets a low college readiness ranking because fewer students are able to take these costly exams, especially more than one.
Furthermore, a student’s ability to be ready for and succeed in college is not dependent on whether they took or performed well on an AP exam. There are many opportunities for Hudson students to become college-ready other than AP exams, including the AVID program, Bard Early College program and more than a dozen college-credit bearing courses offered at Hudson High School. However, U.S. News ignores these programs in its data. Lastly, it must be recognized that college is not the desired path for every high school graduate and many graduates choose to enter the workforce instead of attending college. The U.S. News’ narrow criteria for college readiness are incomplete measures of our students’ actual readiness for college (or career).
Graduation Rates (10%)
The last factor that contributes to a school’s overall score (as determined by U.S. News) is the graduation rate.
As shown in the table below, Hudson’s graduation rates have climbed significantly over the past decade. The data shows that Hudson’s graduation rates are comparable to and sometimes even higher than the New York State average (when looking at the Building graduation rate, which is specific to the students who actually attend classes in Hudson High School, whereas the District graduation rate includes special education students who attend out-of-district programs that Hudson has no control over – an important distinction to be made when using graduation rates to judge a school and the quality of education provided to students in its buildings). U.S. News’ use of the District graduation rate causes Hudson to receive a lower ranking in this category. Basing the score on the Building graduation rate would be a more accurate representation of the school (as noted above).
Admittedly there is always room for improvement. However, Hudson’s progress is something to be proud of and it is unfortunate to see biased, narrow and misleading school rankings undermine the hard work of our students and staff. The goal of this article is to encourage critical thinking and shed light on the reasons why third-party school rankings should not be taken at face value. Often there is more to the story than what is presented.