US News fails to rank Algonquin (or Assabet) (Updated)

by beth on May 11, 2018

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Above: Algonquin didn’t make the “best high school” list. But it looks like it might have scored in the top 30 schools in the state for “College Readiness”. (photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

US News and World Reports has published its list of best high schools in the country. It’s given some neighbors bragging rights, while failing to include our high schools.

[Side Note: Congratulations to residents who attend AMSA. The school came in 2nd place for the state! Nationally, it ranked #107 nationally overall, #57 for STEM and #37 for charter schools.]

Although headlines refer to “best high schools”, it really ranks on best schools for preparing students to get into college. (Rankings focus on AP test participation and results.) So, for Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School, not being included is a good thing.*

For Algonquin Regional High School, not being ranked is more of a mixed bag.

Looking at the info on the Report’s site, it seems we couldn’t have ranked higher than 29th for the state.** Some may have considered that something to be proud of. Others would have been rankled that it was a little lower than in some past years. And some of you may be especially annoyed when comparing to Hopkinton, which snagged #5 for the state, and earned a “Gold Medal”.

You may ask, “How can you know where ARHS would have ranked if it wasn’t included?” That’s a good question.

The data that the magazine ranked schools by was available in the report for ARHS. For each school, the analysts came up with an overall “College Readiness” score by which it was ranked. Algonquin was given 54.2. So, if the data was available, why wasn’t the school ranked?

Perhaps someone else can figure that out. In looking at methodology, I initially thought it had to do with factors around economically disadvantaged students or other “historically underserved” minority populations. But when I drilled into our school’s data, ARHS seemed to well-pass those threshholds.

Although I reached out to the magazine, I don’t expect to hear back. FAQs direct parents to channel any questions through school administrators.

If ARHS had been ranked, it would have been higher than Westborough (ranked #35 in the state) and Shrewsbury (#47).

Still, I always take rankings with more than a few grains of salt. It’s hard to fairly quantify school performances by crunching numbers. Each organization that ranks uses its own methodology and I’m not sure that any are perfect. For US News & World Report, once they disqualified some schools from rankings based on on state tests for math and reading proficiency and other criteria, they then weighted by AP test participation and results.

*Assabet offers programs that prepare students for college – and even helps them acquire advance credits. But it also prepares a lot of other students to bypass college (and school loan debt) to graduate ready to enter the workforce. So, naturally a low percent of students will be taking AP exams, etc. Judging the school primarily on that criteria, would be unfair.

**It could have been lower, since I don’t know if other schools with higher scores were also omitted for the same mysterious reason ARHS was. Compared to the schools that were ranked, the score would have placed ARHS somewhere between #617 – 632 for the nation.

Updated (5/17/18 10:23 am): Surprisingly, the magazine did respond. I asked for an explanation of why the school wasn’t included. I was told it failed step 1 of the criteria. I countered that the proficiency level for “economically disadvantaged” on the MCAS in both 2015 and 2016 were well above the average for the state. The response was:

Step 1 of the four-step methodology analyzes whether a school overall is performing better on its assessment tests than expected, factoring in its percentage of economically disadvantaged students. The assessment data and free or reduced price lunch data (FRPL) we are looking at here is at the total school level. . .  Algonquin Regional High did not pass Step 1 of the methodology, which did not include comparisons for statewide results or school results of underserved student sub groups. Not passing Step 1 is why the school is not ranked for the 2018 Best High Schools rankings – not for any other reason.

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