Written by: Tim Wang
In this world, every sort of product and institution is ranked and judged. People want to eat at the world’s best restaurants and read the world’s best books. High schools are no exception. However, the high school ranking system is flawed and in need of revision. Rankings of high schools do not accurately reflect each school’s quality of instruction or how well the school prepares its students for college and other aspects of post-high school life.
The American Institute of Research, which provides a respected ranking of high schools, ranks using three steps. The first step compares a school’s math and reading levels to the state average. The second compares the school’s disadvantaged students to the state’s average for disadvantaged students, and the third looks at a school’s college readiness performance. Though the methods in which schools are ranked seem thorough, they do not accurately reflect the quality of the education delivered at a institution or how prepared students are for post-high school life.
Though the ranking system takes demographics into account and compares them to those of other schools around the nation, the ranking system itself is heavily biased towards schools that offer more college prep courses. For example, according to usnews.com, only one of the top 50 high schools in the nation has an AP participation rating lower than 90 percent. This means that among those 49 schools, at least 90 percent of the student population took at least one AP exam. Thus, schools that do not offer AP courses will be rated significantly lower than those that do whether or not they perform better in standard academics or performs better in extracurriculars, which biases the results of the ranking. Extracurricular activities can be even more important than academics, let alone AP courses, in determining the worth of a school; they provide outlets for students to find their interests and explore career paths.
In addition, for step three, the percent of AP classes taken also outweighs the tests actually passed. While the number one school in the country requires all of its students to take AP courses, only 66 percent of their tests were passing scores, meaning those students received a score of three or higher.
Gunn, which is ranked 112, has a AP participation rating of 71 percent, which means 71 percent of Gunn students have taken at least one AP exam. Gunn does not have as many students taking such classes, but its pass rate for AP tests is 95 percent. If Gunn forced all its students to take AP classes, it is almost guaranteed a spot in the top 10. Just looking at a school’s AP participation rate without looking at its success rate puts a lot of schools without these requirements at a disadvantage.
Also, only four out of the top 25 high schools have student populations of over 1,000, and only two in the top 10 in California are public schools. Half of the top 10 are charter or magnet schools; schools that require applications for students to gain admission. This creates a system where only the top applicants get in, which heavily skews the demographics of the school and improves its rating.
Currently, high school rankings are heavily biased and are inaccurate. They should be revised, either by removing magnet schools from the equation, or by taking other awards and achievements a school has, such as those in sports, art or engineering into account. The current ranking system does not accurately portray how well a school will prepare a student to be successful in the future.