MCPS Cries Foul Over Magazine’s Top High School Rankings

MCPS Cries Foul Over Magazine’s Top High School Rankings

School system contends some data was not factored in the U.S. News findings

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Photo via U.S. News

The Montgomery school system is contesting a national list released this week that ranked just one county high school among the best in the country, saying key data was missing from the profiles of four schools.

In the list released by U.S. News & World Report on Tuesday, Walt Whitman High in Bethesda was ranked as the top school in Maryland and 93rd best school in the nation, with nine schools placing in the state’s top 25.

A school spokesman lauded the schools Tuesday and Wednesday night school system officials released a message to families saying they believe the list is inaccurate.

Derek Turner, a school spokesman, said Walter Johnson, Poolesville and Winston Churchill high schools were missing reading proficiency data and John F. Kennedy High was missing mathematics proficiency data, adversely impacting their ranks.

“Based on an analysis, using that proficiency data would have increased the schools’ scoring and altered rankings,” Turner said.

The report compared more than 23,000 public high schools across the nation based on state reading and math assessment outcomes, performance of disadvantaged students, graduation rates and college readiness based on completion of Advanced Placement exams.

In a statement, U.S. News representatives said some datasets with small numbers of students are often suppressed by education departments, which can impact results, but the methods used to determine Montgomery County schools’ ranks were done in accordance with their standard methodology, which accounts for such situations.

“In order to calculate the rankings for more than 17,000 high schools, U.S. News relies on state assessment data that comes directly from the states. For privacy reasons, some states withhold —or suppress — some data sets that have small numbers of participants,” U.S. News Chief Data Strategist Robert Morse said in a statement. “This includes Maryland. In those cases, U.S. News factored in state assessment data only on subject exams for which enough data was available, which is consistent with our methodology.”

In past years, Churchill and Poolesville contended for the state’s top spot while Walter Johnson and Kennedy have consistently sat mid-pack.

Churchill ranked No. 12 in the state and No. 538 nationally; Walter Johnson of Bethesda was No. 38 in the state and No. 1,529 nationally; Poolesville was No. 58 in the state and No. 2,830 nationally; and Kennedy, Silver Spring, was No. 82 in the state and No. 3,698 nationally.

Data for the rankings is provided by the state Department of Education and a spokesman for the department said complete data was provided to the magazine.

“We provided the US News data, as we do every year,” the spokesman said in an email. “We provided for US News two files in January: cohort (graduation) rate for 2017 and the 2017 PARCC file containing school-level performance for Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, (English language arts) 9, ELA 10 and ELA 11.”

Turner said the school system is working with the state and magazine to clear up the discrepancy. Ultimately, the school system doesn’t expect the list to be altered.

“We just know people look at this and should know the data may not be completely accurate,” Turner said.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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