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Thread: Ranking our schools

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Wayland MA
    Posts
    1,431

    Default Ranking our schools

    A Wayland Town Crier letter and subsequent discussion raised the question of whether we might plausibly rank one school against another. Here's my answer.

    We can certainly compare aspects of our schools with those of others (see the work of the Long Range Strategic Planning initiative here): percentage of eligible students attending; class size; per pupil expenditure; MCAS scores; and graduation rates come immediately to mind. The MA Department of Education collects and normalizes those data, but only such that we can compare to Massachusetts, and not the rest of the country. And to my knowledge, no one tracks other measures of merit: the quality of teacher preparation; the depth and breadth of curriculum; the number of students participating in athletics, the arts, and activities; the universities and jobs that our students go on to explore, and so on.

    Let's say, however, that someone did track these things, and did so nationally ,or better, internationally. How would we weight these various attributes to arrive at a single ranking? Is MCAS weighted 3.0 or 3.5? Does athletics score 0.3, or 1.3, or 2.3? Where does per pupil expenditure fit: 1.9?

    We can and do examine these measures to improve the education that we deliver. We just can't boil them down to a single number in order that we might establish a ranking.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Posts
    726

    Default There's no feasible perfect measure...

    A better measure of school success... What we'd really like is to somehow compare lifelong happiness, wouldn't we? I mean, isn't that the ultimate goal?

    The Town Crier letter writer suggests repeatedly in her comments in the link Jeff provided that the real measure we should use is AP exams taken, and OK, that's a measure. I think she liked that measure because she thought Wayland was faltering on it. But alas, it turns out that Gary Burton was among a group of superintendents who asked not to be included on Newsweek's poll, and really we would still be there, up in the rankings...

    A somewhat more comprehensive measure is used by US News and World Report, and there Wayland was one of their Silver schools (granted, not Gold, but there were only 100 Gold schools in the country), and among these were exam schools (a couple of example school names: Pine View School for Gifted (Florida), School for the Talented and Gifted (Dallas).

    There were five Massachusetts schools that received Gold status and their per student expenditures (the charter school's calculated from data here):
    Boston Latin (an exam school): $16,467
    Dover-Sherborn: $15,698
    Media & Technology Charter School: $15,703
    Wellesley: $12,776
    Weston: $16,463

    Wayland: $13,213/student. More than Wellesley, granted, but significantly less than the others.

    I'm a bit confused by the letter, in any event. I thought the writer's point was that we shouldn't be so happy with Wayland's performance since we didn't make the Newsweek list. But then she really wasn't the list bit deterred by the knowledge that we would have made the list, if only we hadn't specifically asked to be excluded. So, for some reason, we should still be unhappy with our performance.

    Or was the real point that even if the MSBA says it is willing to help pay for a new high school that this really isn't an endorsement, and that we really don't need the new facility (even if the MSBA deems it inadequate and we potentially could lose accreditation), what we really need is to get rid of teacher unions and work our kids even longer hours. I don't have children in high school, and I can't speak for everyone else's experience, but I know I hear an awful lot about some very hardworking students in our high school...

    I'd like to know why the letter writer thinks our students are less competitive. Is she right? Jeff, do you have any data on where the Class of 2008 is headed next year that you might be able to share?
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 06-17-2008 at 12:24 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    3

    Default AP exams at Wayland High

    As a parent of a high-school student and two WHS grads, I think total number of AP exams taken, especially when scores are not taken into account, is a poor indication of the quality of Wayland schools.

    Wayland sets the bar high to even get into AP classes (from the Wayland High Program of Studies, available on the High School website)

    Criteria for enrollment in honors or AP courses in a particular subject or discipline for students entering grade 10, 11, or 12 are as follows:
    - Students enrolled in an honors or AP course in the subject who have earned a B- grade or better; students enrolled in a college course who have earned an A- or better. There are more rigorous prerequisites for AP English, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry and APUnited States history. Please consult pages 18, 40, 45 and 47. The placement grade is determined by the student's average at the end of the first semester of the course.
    - Students who have been recommended by the department head.

    ADVANCED PLACEMENT ENGLISH
    (Prerequisite: A- or above in honors American literature, or department head approval)

    AP CALCULUS BC
    (Prerequisite: A- or better in Honors Precalculus, or department head approval)

    ADVANCED PLACEMENT UNITED STATES HISTORY
    (Prerequisite: A- or above in Honors The Old World and The New World, or department head approval)

    ADVANCED PLACEMENT PHYSICS
    (Prerequisite: Honors physics, calculus taken concurrently)
    Also, Honors Calculus at WHS, for instance, is the equivalent of AP Calculus AB; students are eligible to take the AB exam, but are not required to. (My daughter took the course but not the exam; she placed comfortably into the second semester of college calculus and did well in it).

    But beyond that, I think using AP test-taking rate as the standard overlooks what is arguably the most important goal of a public school system--to educate all our kids, with all their different strengths and abilities, to learn and accomplish the best they can. I think we do a very good job with the kids with top academic ambitions. But AP exam results, or MCAS exam results, or SAT results don't honor the kids who are very bright but learn differently and can't display what they know on a multiple-choice exam. They don't reflect the kids who go to all-state in art and music. They don't reflect the kids who live to play sports but still graduate with academics that allow them to go on to college. They don't reflect any special needs kids who are helped on to a more independent life.

    There are always ways our high school can get better, and maybe one of them is encouraging more kids to challenge themselves with AP coursework. But comparing our high school to exam schools (who can pick and choose their students) and charter schools (which often require very motivated students and families even if the schools are academic-blind in admission) without taking into account many of the other aspects of a good, small town public school, is not a very good comparison.

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