How Niche ranked Algonquin and Trottier

by beth on August 9, 2018

Niche updated its annual ranking for best public schools. Algonquin is now ranked the 29th public high school in the state, the lowest rank the website has given the school yet. That’s compared to #23 in 2015, #22 in 2016, and #16 last year.

I don’t have past rankings for Trottier Middle School, but was surprised to see it come in at only #44 in the state. As for the K-12 district rankings, we didn’t get a rank. I’m guessing that they gave up on trying to compare the oddball district structure (individual Towns’ K-8 and combined regional high school).

Algonquin’s rank fluctuations and middling middle school rankings may be partly based on the website’s unusual methodology.

Niche combines data with user feedback. The site, which ranks schools nationwide pitches that feedback is from millions of users. But, when it comes to our region, it seems that user feedback is down to a handful of users. Southborough and Northborough middle schools each had only one reviewer. Algonquin showed 186 – but only about 15 were completed within the last year.

In trying to understand the rank change, I compared ARHS’ “report card” to last year’s. Niche shows that “Academics” and “College Prep” both slipped from an A+ to A and “Administration” from A to B. (In the positive column,”Diversity” improved, from a C to a B-, and “Food” went from a B to a B+.)

Academics is mostly based on test scores. But Niche indicates it relies on “self reported” data from users to calculate 65% of the grade for “College Prep”. And user data comprises half the grade for “Administration”.

You can read the school’s full report here and more about methodology here.

The Niche labels this month’s report as its 2019 list of best public high schools in Massachusetts. On it, ARHS was out ranked by three close neighbors:

12. Advanced Math & Science Academy Charter School, Marlborough
15. Westborough High School
22. Hopkinton High School

But, Algonquin did score better than some other neighbors:

41. Shrewsbury Senior High School
60. Framingham High School
80. Ashland High School

For those of you interested, here are the schools that came in the top 10: 

1. Massachusetts Academy of Math & Science, Worcester
2. Lexington High School
3. Boston Latin School
4. Brookline High School
5. Wayland High School
6. Newton North High School
7. Newton South High School
8. Belmont High School
9. Weston High School
10. Wellesley Senior High School

As for the Middle School rankings, Trottier had an A in Academics mostly based on MCAS scores for Math and Reading. It had an A+ for teachers. Once again, user feedback was part of the ranking process. Trottier was out ranked by some neighbors and fared better than some others:

13. Hopkinton Middle School
21. Sarah W. Gibbons Middle School (Westborough)
47. Ashland Middle School
57. Oak Middle School (Shrewsbury)
93. Robert E. Melican Middle School (Northborough)

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Frank Crowell August 9, 2018 at 8:46 PM

And the winner for best schools for less money is: Hopkinton.

I wonder if our high per student costs when compared to Hopkinton (was it $2k more or $3k more?) has anything to do with our “oddball district structure” (best description I’ve heard).

I was told long ago that I should not complain about the costs of education in town because this kept our house prices high. If this trend of higher cost compared to neighboring towns continues with rankings decline, how much longer can that argument hold?

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2 Mike Fuce August 11, 2018 at 10:31 AM

To be balanced Frank, Hopkinton does not have the diverse needs that Southborough house. You have to remember we have a very high need as we have the autism center in Southborough. I’d like to know just how many one on one teachers aides we have as compared to other school districts. I have heard we have as many as 100 one on one in the system

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3 Parent August 13, 2018 at 8:24 AM

Special education often represents a large portion of the school budget and does not get reflected in the traditional scoring and rankings… which is a shame.

I have heard over the years many parents lament moving to a “top” district only to learn that they stay that way by pressuring special needs students out of district by not providing adequate services and hiring administrators skilled in reduction of services.

This is a harsh reality. I don’t know for a fact that this is the case in Sboro (meaning that they are not engaging in these practices)… but I would definitely be more in favor of advocating for improving these vanity ratings such that they encompass the entire population rather than knee-jerk budget slashing or attempts to climb the ranks on the backs of the students with the most needs.

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4 Al Hamilton August 13, 2018 at 10:58 AM

Mike

The data suggests that in terms of ESL and Special Needs students, we are well below the state averages:

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=02760050&orgtypecode=6&leftNavId=305&&fycode=2018&dropDownOrgCode=1

So, our relatively high costs are probably not attributable to special needs expenses (note that the cost of a special needs student can vary greatly from very modest to close to 6 figures so the mix is important)

An alternative explanation is that with declining enrollment, our teacher base is relatively “senior” which means that they may be at the top ends of the salary structure (steps and lanes). This in turn would lead to higher than normal labor costs.

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5 Parent August 13, 2018 at 12:59 PM

Raw counts are very misleading. Outplacements can sometimes give little more insight. The numbers can be hard to parse (I have tried)… the budget has several line items for outplacement and specialist. Likely a better source.

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6 Al Hamilton August 13, 2018 at 4:13 PM

Parent

I agree the numbers are hard to parse. It is a shame that the folks who are responsible do not seem to be interested in explaining the difference. In this case it would be the School Admin and School Committees that should be explaining why our expenses seem relatively high vs our neighbors. There may be a good reason but in the absence of an explanation, based on compelling data, some will conclude that there is a lot unproductive expenditures going on.

Our public officials ought to be delighted to explain how they are spending our tax dollars. It provides an opportunity to inform the public and build support for their endeavors. Sadly, a fulsome explanation is the exception not the rule.

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7 Parent August 13, 2018 at 8:46 PM

Well… the budget is public. And I do recall watching the school committee meeting on youtube to discuss the budget. It was also public. This was then presented to town hall meeting. So I guess we could ask.

I also recall some efforts from SC members who are seeking promised reimbursements for bus travel from the state. My early impression is that the school committee is very open and active.

All that being said, I have watched and reviewed all those things and do not have a great answer for you in terms of why the discrepancy exists. I agree that it would be nice if someone could break down and also highlight the benefits that may not be apparent to everyone. Worth going to a meeting and asking…

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8 Donna mcdaniel August 25, 2018 at 10:45 PM

To suggest that the autism center is part of our school system!!!??? NOT SO !

A privately funded operation.with not a penny from our town budget….but rather it pays a very healthy contribution in lieu of taxes to the town…Amounts for all in lieu incomes are read at Town Meeting. You can find in the annual town report …along with amounts we get from other nonprofits including private schools.
The Autism Center students are brought at their expense by van from around the area… no boarding students.
AND fact is that the school has bought several houses in the area and built a new house …all for staff…not students. In that respect we are losing some real estate taxes on the homes.But again.. we contribute ZERO to the school budgets

My only connection to the school is being among those who have learned not to try to go from Boston Rd to RTe 9 around the afternoon time when a long line of vans is waiting to take students to their homes in towns around the area…

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