US News releases ‘Best High Schools in America’ list but where’s Conestoga High School?

Conestoga High SchoolEach year the US News and World Report releases ‘Best High Schools in America’ list of the top 500 public high school in America.  More than 21,000 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Schools were awarded gold, silver or bronze medals based on their performance on state assessments and how well they prepare students for college.

Anxious to see how our award-winning high school compared with others based on the 2015 US News ranking criteria, I was very disappointed.  When I searched for Conestoga High School on the US News website, instead of a ranking number, I found the following for our high school:

  • Medal Awarded: None
  • National Rank: Unranked

Why is Conestoga High School not on the Best High Schools in America list?  

For several years, I have reported on the US News rankings and Conestoga’s standing in the state and nationally.  In 2012, Conestoga was ranked #3 in Pennsylvania and #279 nationally.  For 2013, Conestoga  was ranked #5 in Pennsylvania and #313 nationally and for 2014, Conestoga was ranked #5 in Pennsylvania and #341 nationally.  Radnor, Great Valley, Lower Merion, Unionville Chadds Ford high schools are all on US News 2015 ranking list for the state and nationally – so what happened to Conestoga High School?

US News standings of the top 10 high schools nationally:

  1. School for the Talented and Gifted (Dallas, TX)
  2. BASIS Scottsdale (Scottsdale, AZ)
  3. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology (Alexandria, VA)
  4. Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology (Lawrenceville, GA)
  5. School of Science & Engineering Magnet (Dallas, TX)
  6. Carnegie Vanguard High School (Houston, TX)
  7. Academic Magnet High School (North Charleston, SC)
  8. University High School (Tolleson, AZ)
  9. Lamar Academy (McAllen, TX)
  10. Gilbert Classical Academy High School (Gilbert, AZ)

US News standings of the top 10 high schools in Pennsylvania:

  1. Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School (Philadelphia)
  2. New Hope-Solebury High School (New Hope)
  3. Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy (Erie)
  4. Upper St. Clair High School (Pittsburgh)
  5. Radnor High School (Radnor)
  6. Quaker Valley High School (Leetsdale)
  7. Great Valley High School (Malvern)
  8. Unionville High School (Kennett Square)
  9. Strath Haven High School (Wallingford)
  10. Mt. Lebanon High School (Pittsburgh)

There has been much discussion, including on Community Matters, in regards to the quality of our T/E school district.  Repeatedly, people have affirmed that the quality of our school district is helping to sustain our property values.  If that is correct, why shouldn’t TESD taxpayers expect the same ‘bragging rights’ as the other school districts?

Not that this answer will be OK for some of the District’s parents, but I think I know why Conestoga High School is not on US News Best High Schools in America list.  Similar to US News rankings, Newsweek does an annual ranking of the top 500 public high schools in America.  When Newsweek released their 2011 rankings Conestoga High School was not listed. As a result of questions on this topic, the District released a statement regarding Newsweek’s 2011 rankings, which read in part:

For the T/E community members who follow Newsweek magazine’s annual America’s Best High Schools story, you are aware that Conestoga High School (CHS) has been included in the list for the past several years, yet was absent from the list this year. Since the criteria Newsweek uses to determine rankings did not significantly change, we inquired about our status. We learned that Newsweek changed the way in which they collect data about high schools. Newsweek responded that they sent an email earlier in the year to all secondary schools requesting information. According to Newsweek, the email was sent to a CHS counselor. The counselor, however, reported that the email was not received. We subsequently sent our data to Newsweek, and were informed by the Newsweek staff that CHS would have ranked competitively based upon our students’ performance and Newsweek’s calculations.

In 2011, the local community was assured that the error would be corrected and that T/E would participate in the Newsweek high school survey going forward.  T/E has award-winning schools so there’s little doubt that Conestoga High School should have been on the 2015 rankings of best high schools.  So, I’m left wondering if the same thing happened four years later – was the District’s clerical error of 2011 repeated in 2015 and that US News did not receive the required ranking materials from TE School District?

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21 Comments

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  1. If a school doesn’t respond, they don’t get ranked because there are no reported data points. It’s not a mystery.

    Also, you refer to Great Valley as Great Valley House School. I think that was a Freudian slip.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Obviously the District did not provide the data. The mystery is WHY didn’t the District provide the data.

    [Reply]

  2. Actually, if you do a search on Conestoga High School in Pennsylvania on the US News & World Report best high schools ranking, you’ll see the school’s data, test scores, etc. http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/pennsylvania/districts/tredyffrin-easttown-school-district/conestoga-high-school-17378

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Actually … although school information is listed for Conestoga, obviously something was missing from the reporting or the school would have been ranked. if you read the 75 page ‘Analytical Methodology & Technical Appendices’ provided by US News at http://www.usnews.com/pubfiles/best-high-schools-technical-appendix.pdf on page 16, the following may offer an explanation as to why Conestoga is not represented in the rankings:

    Schools without a Performance Index. To be considered for the rankings, a high school needed available assessment data for at least one subtest used in the state‐specific analyses for Step 1 and Step 2. Approximately 2.4 percent of the high schools (475 high schools) in the initial group of schools considered for the rankings did not have enough data to calculate a performance index and were thus removed from the analysis. Some of the reasons for this exclusion were missing state assessment data, missing state assessment data for the “all students” category, missing state assessment data for relevant subtests, missing records in the CCD, and suppressed state assessment data.

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  3. After spending time looking at the rankings, there is no real consistency in how Newsweek evaluates the data. Not to downplay the quality of the top schools on the list—but how do you properly compare a school with 236 students in an urban setting to 2000+ in any setting. Perhaps Conestoga, as well as other quality schools , feels the same. I believe the listing provides information without any meaningful results.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    In my opinion, the real importance of the US News rankings is for relocation purposes. If you are moving to an area and are unfamiliar with the various high schools, parents (with help from realtors) may look to school rankings when choosing where to live. None of these ‘lists’ are an absolute metric, but could be useful when deciding where to live.

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  4. Both NW and USNWR are flawed because their respective processes are not transparent.

    One of the best objective and clear studies is from the Washington Post:

    http://apps.washingtonpost.com/local/highschoolchallenge/schools/2015/list/pennsylvania-schools/conestoga-berwyn-pa/

    The #’s are clear.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Even if one accepts that the US News and Newsweek ranking processes are ‘flawed’ as you say, the annual reports of these publications are widely read. An important consideration for families moving to an unfamiliar area is the local school districts. I have no ‘proof’ but my guess is that if school district standings matter to the relocating parents, they are more apt to look at the annual report of US News or Newsweek before checking the Washington Post. Again, no proof, just a guess.

    [Reply]

  5. Many things are widely read. The National Inquirer is widely read. Doesn’t mean that what’s inside is accurate. District reputations are built over decades. They don’t all of a sudden change. You’re making the TESD omission out to be a big deal. Realtors have a variety of resources at their disposal. USNWR is not the only game in town.

    People that live here already made a decision. People considering to move here have to make up their own minds. The omission from USNWR won’t change a thing. It is a non-event. The Washington Post is enough of a data point.

    I guess what I’m asking is “What is the big deal?”

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    You have made your point, and in your opinion – the “Washington Post is enough of a data point”. I happen to be one of the people who does look at school rankings, particularly US News & World Report, so for me, as you say, it is a “big deal”. To conclude, if I didn’t think it was a “big deal” that Conestoga High School was missing from the US News report, I wouldn’t have bothered to write the post.

    [Reply]

  6. Return to Headlines
    U.S. News & World Report Article
    We have received two inquiries about the recent U.S. News & World Report article that does not include Conestoga High School on its list of ranked schools. Beginning with the graduating class of 2014, the State shifted from the former PSSA test to using the Keystone Exam as the federally-required test for high schools. For all students graduating in 2017 and beyond, the Keystone Exam will also be a State graduation requirement. In April 2013, the Board Education Committee decided NOT to require any student to retest on a Keystone Exam unless the test was being used as a graduation requirement. This direction was provided to avoid any unnecessary testing and retesting of students. The decision allowed all students to continue to take course electives per family decision instead of filling their schedules with remediation classes that were not necessary for their own graduation but could possibly have led to improvements in overall school performance. This differed from the approach taken by many other school districts. As a result, any survey that uses Keystone Exam results for students who do not need the test to graduate may show lower results than we had come to expect with the former 11th grade PSSA test. The recently-released U.S. News & World Report rankings used Keystone Exam data provided by the State for students who do not need the test to graduate, and Conestoga High School is not listed for the current year. Other outlets that use SAT scores and AP results may report outcomes that are more reflective of past rankings.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    So if I understand the District’s explanation on the website — because of Keystone Exams, they will not participate in US News annual rankings and presumably they will not participate in Newsweek annual rankings. Don’t Radnor, Great Valley, Lower Merion school districts have the same Keystone Exam challenges? Is the District concerned that the Keystone Exam results would drive down Conestoga’s rankings if revealed? Was this an Educational Committee decision or a School Board decision not to participate?

    BTW, I can tell you that a lot more than two people contacted me regarding the 2015 US News rankings!

    [Reply]

  7. I think that what she is saying is that even though it could have led to improvements in overall school performance, in April 2013, the Education Committee, decided to not require students who failed the exam to retake them or to take remediation classes because they didn’t count anyway and it would have prohibited students from being able to take electives among other things.

    Other districts did not take this approach so yes I think she is saying that our test scores might have been lower and not have reflected the same scores when taking the former PSSA’s. Other schools probably required all student who scored poorly to take remediation classes and retake the test, reflecting scores that better matched the former PSSA testing.

    Schools that used SAT’s and AP results were not affected either so could use the this same metric as in the past.

    [Reply]

  8. After reading alot about this, and talking to educators, I think that the district made the right decision.

    There is enormous pressure on districts everywhere to teach to the test. Take a look at http://www.unionvilletimes.com to find an Op-Ed written by a School Board Director no less titled Op/Ed: Keep calm and carry on with standardized tests.

    It has caused quite a stir among what appear to be teachers who write in to say that test prep time is squeezing the life out of academic learning. The UCFSD even has a program called “Study Island” (from what I can tell) where the kids go to dedicate time (some say alot of time) for test prepping. Maybe Keith Knauss will write in and explain further what this program is about. As evidence of it’s test prepping effectiveness, UCF placed number 1 in PA state PSSA test scoring last year. TE placed 7th (?) but after reading about how these test scores are a better reflection of how well students are prepared to take them instead of how well they are learning to be creative strategic thinkers, I’m beginning to think, who cares. Do these tests simply measure how well districts prepared their students to take them? Are the students learning how to be creative, critical thinkers and problem solvers? Or are they learning how to take a test.

    For the TE School district to step back and say Hey, we’re not going to do this, we’re going to let our students take and enjoy electives and we’re not going to burden and stress them out with test prep and test remediation classes when the results don’t matter anyway, is a pretty courageous and decent thing to do, I think. And, they’re right, I believe it probably would unfairly reflect lower test scores for our district so why participate in those rankings?

    The following is from a commenter on the UCFSD site mentioned above: (I think she’s a teacher)

    When we use state standards for testing, we put the test before the curriculum. We encourage teaching the test. When we use district standards and district created tests, we put the students and their mastery of the curriculum first. Of course, without these long, expensive tests, we no longer have those bragging rights that come from being ranked first. We no longer can tout our test scores in real estate offices. And, we regain control of our school district–something that I believe is extremely important in this day and age of our government wanting to take over so many aspects of our lives. Education is about the students, not about increasing real estate values and holding bragging rights. We need to make certain that our tax dollars go to improving the education of each student. Right now we are supporting a very big business, the business of testing in this country. I, for one, would like the education and testing of our students to be returned to our school districts rather than our supporting the big business of testing in America.

    The following is part of the Op-Ed written by Jeff Hellrung, School Board Director UCFSD:

    These assessments are invaluable both to students and to their teachers and school district administrators. They give critical feedback on student learning and progress. Teachers and administrators can use those test results to develop strategies to help students who are lagging in specific areas and we can also identify and correct any gaps in instructional programs. Isn’t this just common sense? Doesn’t any profession that wants to succeed and be taken seriously need to adopt and adhere to an appropriate set of standards?

    So why are is there such a fuss about our state standards and testing? There is a lot of misinformation from the extreme right and the extreme left who have their own agendas to promote. Also, too many public school superintendents are howling that excessive high stakes testing is unfair and overly stressful to children. Delivering these assessments once per year for six years is not excessive. Neither does taking those assessments have to be stressful to children, unless the adults responsible for their education make it stressful for them.

    Too many of our school district superintendents have resisted the accountability that comes with our PA Academic Standards and our PSSA testing. To their credit, our past and current Unionville-Chadds Ford Superintendents and teachers have embraced our state standards and accepted accountability for the performance of our students. They have used the PSSA results to address the particular needs of each student. They have ensured that our students are prepared for but not overstressed taking those tests.

    Jeff goes on to say in the comment section:
    There is much alarm and misinformation from WCASD and TESD. I’m proud of our UCFSD and teachers for accepting accountability and delivering great results for our kids.

    I’m still not 100% sure about this. Is Jeff right? Are we alarmists? Is the teacher right? Are kids just learning how to take tests and becoming as a frequent commenter on MLMN stated:

    “What? Common Core is giving us robotic test takers who can’t think critically. Thanks to Common Core, many kids and the young adults they are becoming have trouble making inferences, explaining anything complex, evaluating on more than one level, analyzing with any depth, and even self-regulating themselves.
    Common Core and educating to take tests is an unmitigated disaster for our educational system.”

    Source:
    Differences over testing, teaching aired in Radnor during Common Core Forum
    Published: Thursday, May 14, 2015
    By Linda Stein
    lstein@mainlinemedianews.com
    @lsteinreporter on Twitter

    I’d like to hear from some TE teachers.

    [Reply]

  9. I was asking myself the same question. I searched and searched again,No Conestoga! That being said, as rankings are becoming more dependent on standard tests mandated by State and Federal agencies, rather than what is being taught in class, how important are they in the scheme of things, other than receiving grants.

    [Reply]

  10. If it means less testing for the children then I think that is a good thing even if the rankings suffer. I am in Radnor and would hate to think that children are being retested just to improve high school rankings.

    [Reply]

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