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What are School Rankings?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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School rankings are ratings of schools based on a variety of criteria and undertaken for the purpose of allowing people, particularly parents, to evaluate, compare, and contrast schools. Because these ratings are incorporated by people in deciding where to live, real estate agents also use them. Rankings can be national, or at the state, district, or school level.

One might begin to look for school rankings by going to the United States Department of Education. This department does not rank schools itself, but recommends the Standard & Poors website called SchoolMatters.

School rankings at SchoolMatters are only for public schools. They give an overview with contact information, a map, and general school information such as enrollment, student/teacher ratio, and ethnic make-up, with space for parent ratings and reviews and photos to be added by users. Other areas covered are test scores, a classroom profile, college prep information, the district’s financial information, and community demographics. Also available are a link to the school’s website, the ability to e-mail a parent from the school if any have volunteered, and the ability to compare up to three schools within a state.

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) offers information on a state-by-state basis. Its information is based on four areas: student characteristics, school and district characteristics, racial/ethnic information, and performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics, reading, science, and writing.

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Two national magazines have high profile school rankings. Newsweek’s Top High Schools has rankings for public schools based on the ratio of Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and/or Cambridge tests administered to all students in the school to the number of graduating seniors. The Newsweek site lists the top 1300 schools in the country, with additional data on the percentage of students in the school who are receiving Federally subsidized lunch, and the proportion of graduating seniors who passed at least one AP or IB exam.

U.S. News & World Report provides school rankings for the institutions it claims are America’s 100 best public high schools. The areas examined include students’ performance on state tests, the success of the school’s disadvantaged students, and the college level coursework offered.

It’s important, however, to keep in mind that ratings can be wrong or misleading. In November, 2007, when U.S. News & World Report gave school rankings for the top 100 schools, they got the math wrong. A school listed as number 5 was actually in the top 500 of the over 18,000 high school rated, but not among the top ten. Of course there was a retraction as soon as the error was noted, but it’s a reminder not to treat rankings as infallible.

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