Once Again, It's Time to Deconstruct the U.S. News "Best High Schools" Rankings

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Once again, BASIS swept the U.S. News & World Report's list of best public high schools, taking five of the top seven places. University High placed number 15. Does that mean BASIS has five of the seven best schools in the country and University High is the 15th best? Only if you think "best school" means a place filled with high achieving students who take lots and lots of Advanced Placement classes and tests. The more AP courses seniors have taken and the more tests they've passed, the higher a school's ranking. AP courses are the basis of the BASIS curriculum. University High emphasizes the courses, but not quite as much.

Unfortunately, if you read the Star's misleading front page article, you get a different, and incorrect, picture of how a high school makes it to the top.

To get a high U.S. News ranking, you have to jump over a few hurdles, like performance on state tests and graduation rates, to be in contention. Once you've cleared those hurdles, a school's ranking is based totally—not partially, totally—on how many Advanced Placement classes seniors have taken and how well they do on the tests. That's it. This year, the contest didn't even include the International Baccalaureate program as it has in the past. It was all AP, all the time.

Someone who read the Star article would think the ranking uses a more complex, inclusive formula where AP course work is "considered." Nope. Not so. Here's what the Star wrote about the ranking process with my comments and corrections in brackets.
The list, published annually, looks at data from more than 22,000 schools focusing on student outcomes with an emphasis on graduation rates [Nope. If graduation rates are 75 percent or higher, you make it into the all-important AP round.] and state proficiency tests [Nope. If you're in the top 10 percent in state test scores, or lower if you have more economically disadvantaged students, you make it into the all-important AP round]. Diversity [Doesn't matter if you're in the top 10 percent in state test scores], enrollment [Of very little importance], participation in free and reduced-price lunch programs [Nope. BASIS schools don't have free/reduced lunch, so under that category, U.S. News simply says "Not Applicable"] and Advance Placement are also considered [Misleading. AP isn't simply considered, it's the only thing that matters once a school makes it into the all-important final round].
BASIS schools are filled with a select group of conscientious, high achieving students. (A few weeks ago, BASIS publicly acknowledged it's an academically selective school, so, finally, we can agree on that point). The schools require that students take lots and lots of AP courses and tests across the curriculum. The more AP courses students take in multiple areas of the curriculum and the more students who pass the exams, the higher a school scores. That's the secret of the BASIS rankings.

If you have a motivated, high achieving child who's willing to work hard and take lots of AP classes, BASIS could be a good fit. Just be sure to enter your child in one of the early grades. BASIS rarely accepts new high school students.

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