Some Triangle schools miffed over national rankings

But those recognized for the first time says it validates efforts

khui@newsobserver.comMay 10, 2012 

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Broughton High School in Raleigh was ranked third in the state by U.S. News & World Report.

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  • RANKING THE NATION’S BEST PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS North Carolina had 73 out of the 4,877 schools that received rankings in the U.S. News & World Report’s “2012 Best High Schools” list. Broughton High School in Raleigh received a silver medal and was ranked third in the state and 966 in the nation. Jordan Matthews High School in Siler City also received a silver medal and was ranked fourth in the state and 1,158 nationally. Sanderson High School in Raleigh, which received a silver medal, was ranked 12th in the state and 1,756 nationally. Garner High School and Southern Wake Academy in Holly Springs both received bronze medals. Go to www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools to view the full list, including the schools that weren’t ranked.

A new list of the nation’s top public high schools is raising as many questions for who is not on it as it is for who is getting honored.

No North Carolina high school ranked in the top 600 on the list released online this week by U.S. News & World Report. While U.S. News gave awards to less academically heralded institutions such as Garner High School, places such as Raleigh Charter, Enloe High, Chapel Hill High and East Chapel Hill High were unranked.

“Whenever you receive this kind of recognition, it shines a spotlight on the hard work of teachers and students,” said Stephen Mares, principal of Broughton High School in Raleigh, which was ranked third in the state by U.S. News. “It’s a good thing.”

But the omissions prompted some schools and districts to contact U.S. News to question how the rankings were determined.

“If North Carolina’s top ranking is at 663, I suspect something is the matter with their methodology,” Tom Humble, principal of Raleigh Charter High School, said Wednesday.

Raleigh Charter had been ranked 24th in the nation on the prior U.S. News ranking of best high schools in 2009.

Some school officials are pointing to how U.S. News is listing as “N/A” the Algebra I and English I state test results for many of the state’s schools that were used to help determine the rankings.

“There seems to be a reporting error that somebody needs to get to the bottom of,” said Stephanie Knott, a Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools spokeswoman.

Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, said the N/A listings didn’t hurt a school’s ranking. He said that the news magazine decided to consider other state test data that it did not publish when it determined reading and math scores for some North Carolina schools.

Newsweek and The Washington Post also publish their own rankings of the nation’s top public high schools. What has made the U.S. News list different is that it looks at the scores of all students, not just those taking Advanced Placement exams or going to college.

U.S. News developed the latest list by analyzing data from the 2009-10 school year for 21,776 public high schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

The news magazine used state reading and math tests to see whether a school was doing better than expected overall and whether its black, Hispanic and low-income students were exceeding state averages. Schools that cleared the first two hurdles were then judged on their college readiness, based on test data for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.

U.S. News gave rankings for 4,877 schools, 73 from North Carolina. No North Carolina school received the highest honor of a gold medal.

While some schools were questioning the results, others were enjoying the new accolades. Garner High School received a bronze medal. Morse said that Garner High got the medal for closing the achievement gap between its advantaged and disadvantaged students.

“They don’t have the highest test scores in the state, but relative to their level of economic disadvantage, they’re doing better than other schools,” Morse said.

Drew Cook, the principal of Garner High, said the accolade is another sign that the school is moving on the right track academically. He said a key to the school’s ability to reach out to all its students is that it sets high expectations.

“While there are some that question the validity of these kinds of rankings, we’ll just quietly get down to business and do the best job we can for our students,” Cook said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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