EdMedia Commons Archive

Five Questions for … US News & World Report’s Robert Morse, on High School Rankings, Accuracy in Federal Data, and Why Magnet Programs Deserve the Spotlight

Earlier this week, U.S. News & World Report announced its new “Best High Schools” rankings. This year’s list came with some controversy, as it appears inaccurate information — drawn from the U.S. Department of Education’s Core of Common Data — was used in calculating the rankings for some of the more than 22,000 campuses on the list. Morse, U.S. News’ director of data and research, spoke with EWA about the apparent data errors, how the rankings can be useful for reporters, and what other factors might paint a more complete picture of high school success. 

  1. The principal of Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nev., has raised questions about the accuracy of the rankings given that the data used to put his campus in the No. 13 spot was at least partially incorrect. Were you surprised by this?

When you publish something this massive, there are going to be issues that develop. What we weren’t aware of was the degree to which the Common Core data on the federal Web site could be wrong.

We’ve posted a blog letting people know we are aware of the differences in the federal data on our site, and what the principal says are the correct figures. We’re looking into the situation. 2. Green Valley had over 2,800 students in 2009 with about 400 seniors, but U.S. News gives its enrollment as 477 students and 78 seniors. How much of a factor was that in the school’s overall ranking?

The total size of the school determines the percentage of the students who receive free and reduced-price meals. That’s one of the things we use to determine the percentage of economically disadvantaged students. The size of the 12th grade is also part of the equation to determine the percentage of students who took and passed either the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams.

3. Are there any caveats for reporters when considering how to use these rankings to compare campuses?

Our scoring of the schools is relative, and not absolute. Some of the schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged students are doing better than the statewide average. They’re top-performing on a relative basis. It’s possible to get a bronze medal in these rankings without any of the factors we used to measure college readiness, and  also just be a top-performing school within a particular state.

4. Would you like to see the rankings expand to consider additional factors, such as tracking how well a high school prepared a student for post-graduate success?

We’d certainly like to get SAT and ACT scores, but that’s a measure broader than the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams. We’d like to see the proportion of students who do go on to higher education. Are they going to two-year or four-year colleges? Are they enrolling in technical schools? Certainly the completion rate and dropout rates say something about where these students started and where they ended. These are some of the things missing from the data.

Some of that information is available at some schools, but it’s certainly not available at the national level. A few states have certain data points they’re really good at, and other states are way behind.

5. U.S. News publishes separate lists of the top charter schools and magnet schools. Given that magnet schools typically attract students who have a track record of academic achievement and are highly motivated to succeed, why include them in the rankings of traditional campuses that can’t practice selective enrollment?

That’s a fair question. In our view, a public school is a public school. Magnet schools are free to attend, even if there are some barriers to entry. The education system has set them up for a reason, and they are competing with other public schools. They deserve to be part of this rating. By including them in the rankings, it shows that these types of schools are producing really good results, and that deserves to be pointed out.

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.