2022 | Schools

Whitman again named top high school in Maryland on U.S. News & World Report list

Thomas S. Wootton is No. 2; five others in state’s top 10

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Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda continues its reign as the top high school in Maryland, according to an annual list released by U.S. News & World Report on Tuesday.

Whitman has held the top spot for three of the past four years.

This year, six of Montgomery County Public Schools’ 25 high schools ranked in Maryland’s top 10, and nine in the top 25, according to the publication. The schools in the top 10 were Whitman, Thomas S. Wootton, Poolesville, Winston Churchill, Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Richard Montgomery.

None ranked in the top 100 nationally. Whitman was ranked 104 nationally, and four others were among the country’s top 500.

The data used in the rankings are from the 2019-2020 academic year, the first school year affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and sweeping closures that began in March 2020. In a press release, U.S. News said it adjusted the calculations of the factors it uses to determine schools’ ranks to account for the pandemic, particularly its impact on state testing schedules. Many school districts received federal waivers that exempted them from administering the assessment tests.

“Without 2019-2020 assessment data available, U.S. News relied on historic assessment data from the three prior ranking years while also incorporating for the first time state science assessment data from the 2018-2019 school year to capture a broader measure of student learning,” the press release said.

Despite these changes, U.S. News says its schools’ rankings in 2022 can be compared to the 2021 lists.

Some schools’ rankings changed significantly in this year’s list. Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, for example, rose 36 spots in the Maryland rankings and Sherwood High in Sandy Spring rose 21 spots.

U.S. News wrote in a frequently asked questions document that small changes in schools’ data could result in big movement on its lists. This happens because so many schools are analyzed and their data can be very similar.

Seventeen MCPS high schools improved their positions in the rankings, five dropped down the list and three remained in the same spots. Last year’s rankings can be found here.

U.S. News says it uses six factors to determine school quality, including:

• Seniors’ participation in and performance on advanced placement and international baccalaureate exams (30%)
• Seniors’ participation and performance on multiple advanced placement and international baccalaureate exams (10%)
• State assessment proficiency (20%)
Black, Hispanic and low-income students’ performance on state assessments (10%)
• How Black, Hispanic and low-income students performed on state assessments compared to their peers (20%)
• Graduation rate (10%)

The report compares more than 24,000 public high schools across the country. All 25 Montgomery County high schools included in the list were ranked in the top 8,500 nationwide.

For years, education advocates have disputed the value of lists that rank schools, arguing that the rankings do not provide an accurate or holistic picture of the schools because they rely heavily on test scores. They generally don’t measure how those schools serve students with more complex needs or take inclusivity into account, and the “best” schools are often in more affluent areas or lack diversity, advocates have said.

For example, the top-ranked high school in the country is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, a highly regarded magnet school. Thomas Jefferson was also ranked No. 1 in last year’s list.

The school has an enrollment that is about 72% Asian and 19% white, according to Fairfax County Public Schools data, and has been criticized recently for a lack of diversity.

In MCPS, each of the top five ranked schools has a student body that is more than 75% white and Asian, according to school district data. The bottom five all have enrollments that are about 20% white and Asian. The school district’s overall enrollment is about 41% white and Asian students.

Montgomery County public high schools and their state and national rankings are:

• Walt Whitman High, Bethesda: No. 1 in state; 104th nationally
• Thomas S. Wootton, Rockville: 2; 167
• Poolesville: 4; 248
• Winston Churchill, Potomac: 5; 294
• Bethesda-Chevy Chase: 8; 491
• Richard Montgomery, Rockville: 9; 572
• Walter Johnson, Bethesda: 15; 707
• Northwest, Germantown: 18; 771
• Quince Orchard, Gaithersburg: 25; 965
• Damascus: 28; 1,114
• Montgomery Blair, Silver Spring: 34; 1,467
• James Hubert Blake, Silver Spring: 35; 1,554
• Paint Branch, Burtonsville: 37; 1,729
• Wheaton: 42; 2,040
• Sherwood, Sandy Spring: 43; 2,056
• Rockville: 49; 2,209
• Clarksburg: 50; 2,219
• Springbrook, Silver Spring: 54; 2,386
• Col. Zadok Magruder, Rockville: 68; 3,246
• Albert Einstein, Kensington: 71; 3,606
• Northwood, Silver Spring: 81; 4,052
• Gaithersburg: 97; 5,576
• John F. Kennedy, Silver Spring: 110; 6,169
• Seneca Valley, Germantown: 131; 7,669
• Watkins Mill, Gaithersburg: 134; 8,025

Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Silver Spring was not included in the rankings.

U.S. News also ranks magnet programs across the country. MCPS schools’ magnet programs rankings are:

• Poolesville: 58
• Richard Montgomery: 96
• Northwest: 111
• Montgomery Blair: 173
• Wheaton: 202
• Rockville: 212
• Clarksburg: 213
• Springbrook: 227
• Col. Zadok Magruder: 276
• Albert Einstein: 290
• Northwood: 316
• Gaithersburg: 378
• John F. Kennedy: 394
• Seneca Valley: 454
• Watkins Mill: 470

MCPS’ magnet programs specialize in areas ranging from communications to biomedicine.

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