Newsweek’s annual excursion into the statistical nonsense of ranking the nation’s high schools is out, and the big joke on everyone is that the Holmes Junior/Senior High School in Covington, Kentucky is ranked at 927 out of the thousands of high schools in the United States.
Here are a few facts about how Newsweek’s ranking goes awry.
• The denominator in the Newsweek formula is the number of graduates from each school in the report year in question. This approach winds up giving out bonus points to schools like Holmes that have high dropout rates. Many kids in Holmes, half of the Class of 2009, never make it to graduation. In Holmes the ratio of graduates to ninth grade enrollment was a dismal 50.8 percent for the Class of 2009. Statewide, the comparable figure for all high schools was much higher at 73.8 percent.
• Kentucky now tests all public school 11th grade students with the ACT college entrance test. Holmes Junior/Senior High’s 2009 ACT Composite Score of 16.3 ranked at 202 out of the 229 high schools that got score reports in that year. Keep in mind that by March of the 11th grade year when the testing was conducted, many Holmes students had already dropped out. This inflates the ACT statistic for Holmes compared to other Kentucky high schools which do much better jobs of retaining more students to graduation.
• Kentucky also tests all 10th grade students with another ACT product called PLAN. It is administered in the fall of each school year. The 2008-2009 term’s report provides data that shows Holmes’ PLAN Composite Score ranked 224 out of the 229 high schools that got scores reported for this fall-administered assessment. Keep in mind that fewer students had dropped out when this testing was conducted. That helps explain why Holmes’ rank deteriorates from 202 for ACT to 224 for the PLAN.
• Finally, only a handful of Kentucky schools ever performed so poorly in the state’s accountability program that they lost their School Based Decision Making Council authority to self-govern. Holmes was in the initial group of four schools that lost this authority in 2007. It still has not regained that self-governing authority, to my knowledge. Thus, in the eyes of the Kentucky Board of Education, this school must be considered among the state’s very worst performing.
OK, Newsweek, how’s that again about this school being among the country’s best? Sadly, it isn’t close to so. And, it is terribly unfair to present a ranking like this when other high schools here in Kentucky and elsewhere really do perform for kids.
I also wonder how many other schools in Newsweek’s listing got there due to similarly high dropout rates inflating their Newsweek ranking.
Graduation Rate Calculation:
Note: Kentucky still lacks a high quality student tracking system, so estimation formulas must be used for graduation rates. Sadly, the current graduation rate data reported by Kentucky was audited in 2006 and found highly unreliable (particularly in Covington). Thus, we use another formula here. While the National Center for Education Statistics has determined that the best of these formulas is the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, that formula is somewhat cumbersome to calculate in Kentucky. The next best performing formula, which the NCES defines as the “Freshman Graduation Rate,” was used instead. It probably returns a figure about one or two percent lower than the true rate.
New Nonacademic Data information from the Kentucky Department of Education shows in 2009 Holmes graduated 165 students “on time” with a regular diploma and one additional student with learning disabilities graduated after five years of study. Two additional students without disabilities earned a regular diploma, but took more than four years to do so. That works out to a total of 168 total diplomas awarded.
According to the KDE’s “School Year 2005 – 2006 Growth Factor Ethnic / Membership by District and Grade” Excel spreadsheet, there were 331 students in the Class of 2009 when it entered ninth grade at Holmes (Note: Holmes is the district’s only high school).
That works out to a graduation rate of 50.8 percent.
The results for Kentucky’s 11th grade ACT testing for 2009 are found here.
The 2008-09 PLAN report is no longer on line. A current report that has updated numbers for this school year is available here and should show similar results.
Updated 19 Jun with correct year for Holmes’ loss of SBDM authority.