Radnor High School

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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Suburban schools no longer a safe haven from illegal drugs

The use of drugs in suburbia is a growing epidemic – it’s not just on the streets anymore, it’s in suburban neighborhoods.  The drug epidemic has pulled cocaine and heroin out of the dark shadows of American cities and into our suburban schools.

Today’s drug bust headlines mark a sad day for many of the ‘best of the best’ main line high schools and colleges.We learned of the arrest of 11 people involved in ‘Main Line Take Over Project’, a drug trafficking ring.  Apparently two Haverford  School graduates, Neil K. Scott, 25, and Timothy C. Brooks, 18, were the drug operation kingpins and hired students at Conestoga, Harriton, Lower Merion, Haverford School and Radnor high schools and college students from Gettysburg, Lafayette and Haverford as their drug peddlers.

A press release this afternoon from Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman’s office contained the details of the drug ring.  A 4-month long investigation into the trafficking organization identified Brooks and Scott as the organization’s principal suppliers.  Scott was shipped bulk pounds of marijuana from a California supplier and the shipments were delivered to his Haverford apartment (the base of the operation), to his parents’ home in Paoli and to Brooks’ family home in Villanova. In addition to marijuana, Scott and Brooks sold cocaine, hash oil and ecstasy to the high school students and college students.

According to the police report, Scott had designed a business plan with sales incentives for his drug business:

Neil Scott encouraged college sub-dealers to locate new customers to offset his cost of driving to their campuses. Scott offered the sub-dealers incentives for locating new customers and making referrals. The incentives were lower prices for drugs and the opportunity to buy them on credit.

Text messages recovered during this investigation revealed that Neil Scott gave Timothy Brooks business advice on how to expand the sale of marijuana in local high schools. Brooks in return, supervised sub-dealers who sold marijuana at the local high schools. Brooks supplied them with marijuana and encouraged them to efficiently distribute drugs at their schools.

The high school sub-dealers were encouraged to sell at least one (1) pound of marijuana a week. Brooks encouraged his sub-dealers to meet their weekly quota. The incentives included a lower purchase price for marijuana in order to increase their profit margin. Brooks instructed the high school sub-dealers to make certain there was always a constant supply of marijuana in their assigned school. Brooks said this was important to him because he remembered not always being able to buy marijuana when he was in high school.

Multiple search warrants found drug trafficking evidence at 9 locations in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Northampton, Adams and Philadelphia counties plus the homes of Scott and Brooks.  According to the police report, the following items were seized:

  • Approximately 8 pounds of marijuana
  • Approximately 3 grams of hash oil;
  • Approximately 23 grams of cocaine;
  • Approximately 11 grams of MDMA; (Ecstasy)
  • $11,035.00 in U.S. Currency;
  • 1 loaded .223 caliber AR-15 Assault Rifle;
  • 1 loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol;
  • 1 .22 caliber AR-15 style rifle;
  • Additional .22 caliber, .223 caliber and 9mm ammunition;
  •  A 2007 Toyota 4 Runner sport utility vehicle;
  •  A 2009 Acura RDX sport utility vehicle;
  •  8 cellular phones;
  •  1 computer;
  •  Equipment and supplies used to manufacture butane hash oil;
  •  Numerous items of drug paraphernalia.

Last month we read in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that Chester County released theirheroin overdose statisticsand at that time District Attorney Tom Hogan commented, “Heroin does not discriminate.  It is a deadly drug that is abused by young and old, poor and rich, white and black.  Nobody is safe … There are students in every high school in Chester County who are using heroin, from Conestoga to Coatesville, from Unionville to Oxford.”

For decades, families moved from cities and into the suburbs in part because many believed that suburban schools provided a more wholesome environment.  Many believed that moving from the city to suburbia provided a certain way of life, one of tranquil, tree-lined streets, soccer leagues and better schools for their families.  Similarly, to my upbringing outside Washington, DC in a Maryland suburb, there are probably Main Line parents who thought that suburban public schools would provide their children with safe and more wholesome environment than their urban counterparts. Today’s drug arrest on the Main Line should provide a reality check for all.

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US News & World Report ranks Conestoga HS #5 in Pennsylvania and #313 in US

US News & World Report ranks Conestoga HS #5 in Pennsylvania and #313 in the US. The annual rankings of the country’s best high schools are out this week from US News & World Report. The rankings offer a snapshot of a school’s performance based on test data from 21,000 public high schools which represented 49 states (Nebraska did not present enough data to be considered) and the District of Columbia. Conestoga High School received gold level standing, listing a distinctive ranking of 313 of all public schools in the country. In Pennsylvania, US News listed Conestoga as #5.

The news outlet’s formula for determining their list of best high schools is a combination of school performance on state proficiency tests and how well they prepare students for college. A review of the individual states, had California leading the nation in 2013 rankings of best high schools with nearly 28 percent of its eligible high school receiving gold or silver levels. Maryland came in second with 25 percent receiving top designations and Connecticut third at 18.9 percent. To be eligible for a state ranking, a school must be awarded a national gold or silver medal. Pennsylvania has 570 school districts and 687 public high schools. In Pennsylvania, 168 high schools qualified for ‘best high school’ ranking by US News & World Report with either gold, silver or bronze medals. Nationally 500 schools earned gold medals, 1,790 were awarded silver and 2,515 took home bronze medals. Magnet and charter schools, which accept a limited number of students through a lottery or application process, accounted for 145 of the top 500 schools.

Here are the top 10 public high schools for 2013 as listed by US News & World Report:

#1 Julia R. Masterman, Philadelphia
#2 Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School, Bethlehem
#3 Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, Erie
#4 Wyomissing Area Jr-Sr High School, Wyomissing
#5 Conestoga High School, Berwyn
#6 Central High School, Philadelphia
#7 Upper St. Clair High School, Pittsburgh
#8 Radnor High School
#9 Lower Moreland High School, Huntingdon Valley
#10 Unionville High School, Kennett Square

Last year on Community Matters, I provided the top 10 high schools in Pennsylvania for 2012, listed below:

:#1 Julia R. Masterman, Philadelphia
#2 Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, Erie
#3 Conestoga High School, Berwyn
#4 Unionville High School, Kennett Square
#5 Wyomissing Area Jr-Sr High School, Wyomissing
#6 Radnor High School, Radnor
#7 New Hope-Solebury High School, New Hope
#8 Mt. Lebanon High School, Pittsburgh
#9 Upper St. Clair High School, Pittsburgh
#10 Central High School, Philadelphia

In reviewing the Pennsylvania ‘best high schools’, it is interesting to note that Conestoga High School as well as Radnor and Unionville high school dropped slightly in the US News rankings (Conestoga from #3 to #5, Radnor from #6 to #8 and Unionville from #4 to #10) yet Masterman, a magnet school in Philadelphia retained first place. Charter school Lehigh Valley Academy in Bethlehem did not make the 2012 top 10 best high schools but is #2 in the state on the 2013 list.  US News & World Report ranked Great Valley High School as #12 in 2012 but for 2013 the school has dropped to #21. Although Phoenixville High School was ranked as #25 in 2012, the school did not qualify for the 2013 rankings.

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US News Ranks Conestoga High School #3 in Pennsylvania, #279 Nationwide!

Between the final tweaking of the District budget for 2012-13 and the continuing teacher contract negotiations, it is timely that the US News & World Report releases its list of the best high schools in America.  The publication reviewed test data from 22,000 public high schools and 500 schools received the highest ‘gold’ level award.  Conestoga High School received gold level standing, listing at a distinctive rank of 279 of all public high schools in the country.  The US News results indicate an impressive #3 ranking for Conestoga for all public schools in Pennsylvania.

There are 579 school districts in Pennsylvania and 752 high schools.  As part of the state’s graduation requirement, PA high school students take assessments in reading, writing, math, and science in the 11th grade.  US News Report uses the Pennsylvania Systems of School Assessment (PSSA) is used in the criteria for ranking the high schools.  Conestoga scored 54.3 on the college readiness index, based on AP (Advanced Placement) participation rate. The AP participation rate at Conestoga is 56%.

In 11th grade, Pennsylvania school students take Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests in reading, writing, math and science. Here’s the breakdown on the reading and math proficiency results  for Conestoga High School students:

PSSA Reading Proficiency results:
Total Students Tested      491
Below Basic:  2%
Basic:  5%
Proficient:  23%
Advanced:  70%
Results indicate 92% proficiency rate in reading.

PSSA Math Proficiency results:
Total Students Tested 478
Below Basic:  3%
Basic:  4%
Proficient:  20%
Advanced:  73%
Results indicate 93% proficiency rate in math.

Here the list of the top 10 high schools in Pennsylvania:

#1 Julia R. Masterman, Philadelphia
#2 Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, Erie
#3 Conestoga High School, Berwyn
#4 Unionville High School, Kennett Square
#5 Wyomissing Area Jr-Sr High School, Wyomissing
#6 Radnor High School, Radnor
#7 New Hope-Solebury High School, New Hope
#8 Mt. Lebanon High School, Pittsburgh
#9 Upper St. Clair High School, Pittsburgh
#10 Central High School, Philadelphia

Interesting to note that 2 of the top 10 public high schools in the state are located in Philadelphia!

Locally, how did our neighboring high schools rank. Radnor High School made the top ten list in Pennsylvania at #6 and achieved a national rank of 432, qualify for gold level. Lower Merion High School received silver level nationwide, coming in at 835 and ranked #16 in the state.  Great Valley High School was listed at the silver level nationwide, at 725 and #12 in the state. Phoenixville High School, another silver level, ranked 1,094 nationwide and #25 in Pennsylvania.

Congratulations to Conestoga students, parents and teachers on this achievement!

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Should T/E School District Offer the PSAT to 9th Graders? Radnor School District to Fund Student’s PSAT Tests

 I read the following update on the Radnor School District in the Main Line Suburban:

Assistant superintendent Kim Maguire outlined a plan to the Curriculum Committee that would have all Radnor ninth-, tenth- and eleventh-graders take the PSAT in October with school-district funding and with across-the-board scores allowing teachers to “check for trends [as well as] individual student trajectories.” The hope, Maguire said, “is that students will be more motivated.”

Asked if she meant more than for PSSAs, Maguire answered, “Yes.” Superintendent Linda Grobman said the school district would be able to “use the [test-score] information to help plan the instructional program.”

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT) is a standardized test administered by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation.  Other than practice for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a high score on the PSAT is the only way to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship.  The PSAT is great practice for the SAT as the results provide a sense of strengths and weaknesses. 

The PSAT is offered for Conestoga High School students in their Sophomore and Junior years as preparation for the SAT exam.  Radnor High School likewise offers the PSAT to their students in the tenth and eleventh grades.   According to the article, the Radnor School District is suggesting that the District will offer the PSAT to the ninth graders in addition to the tenth and eleventh-graders. 

Last month when there was discussion on Community Matters of Newsweek’s ‘best of high school’ lists, some commentors suggesting that T/E didn’t need to ‘keep up with the Joneses’  — that everyone knows that Conestoga High School is a great high school and the fact that it didn’t appear on Newsweek’s list was of little consequence.  The jury may still be out on the importance (or impact) of Newsweek’s high school rankings, but the PSAT is another issue.

The PSAT is viewed as great practice for the taking of the SAT — and we now read that Radnor School District is discussing adding another practice PSAT year.  Can we assume that if a student takes the practice exam three times before taking the SAT, that the student’s SAT scores will go up?

If a student takes the PSAT in both the ninth and tenth grades, is the student better prepared for taking the PSAT in the eleventh grade?

Why is the PSAT exam in the eleventh grade important . . . ?  Answer — qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship awards is based on the scores on the PSAT taken as a Junior.  Instead of only one practice exam, the Radnor School District students will have the opportunity to practice the PSAT twice before their Junior year.  I would suggest that the number of Merit Scholars in Radnor School District will probably increase as a result.

The number of National Merit scholars is a widely quoted indicator of a given high school’s quality.  To back up the high standard of T/E school district education, should the Curriculum Committee consider adding the option of PSAT testing for ninth graders? Should T/E fund PSAT testing for its students?  Or, does T/E ignore what other neighboring districts are doing?  Is there a risk that by increasing the number of practice PSAT exams, that teachers would teach to that exam rather than offering students a more traditional curriculum?

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T/E School District Offers Explanation of Conestoga’s Omission from Newsweek’s ‘Best High Schools in America’ Rankings

Following-up on Newsweek’s listing of America’s best high schools; I emailed an excerpt from my Community Matters post to TESD administration, school board members and to Karen Cruickshank, president of the board.  I asked for comment or explanation of why Conestoga High School was missing from the Newsweek best high schools in America list when neighboring high schools (Lower Merion, Radnor, Great Valley, etc.) were listed.

There has been a response from the school district and from Karen Cruickshank.  Like many of us, Karen too was disappointed that Conestoga was not on the Newsweek list and volunteered that she had received phone calls from realtors asking the same question as to ‘why’.  She assures me that the error will be corrected and that T/E will participate in the Newsweek high school survey next year.

To offer an explanation as to why Conestoga High School was not included in this year’s ‘best of the best’ rankings by Newsweek, Karen sent the following response she received from T/E administration:

I am writing to respond to the message concerning the Newsweek Best High Schools List. As you are aware, Conestoga was not included in this year’s Newsweek list of “America’s Best High Schools.” In following up with Newsweek, we learned that an email was sent in mid-May to all secondary schools requesting information. The email, Newsweek explained, was sent to a Conestoga High School counselor. The counselor, however, reported that the email was not received. We subsequently sent our data to Newsweek, and we would have placed around #100 on the list based upon their calculations. We have since corrected the Newsweek contact information to ensure that we are included in its analysis in future years.

Althoughk nowing why Conestoga HS did not appear on this year’s Newsweek rankings may not satisfy everyone, it does help explain the omission.

According to the administration, the Newsweek email was not received by the school district.  After the fact, the school district did submit Conestoga’s survey data to Newsweek but apparently did not make the submission deadline.  Additionally, the administration offers that Conestoga should have “placed around #100”.  Since the data was public when sent to Newsweek, I will ask the school board to provide the submitted information.  Conestoga’s statistical data will be posted when I receive it.

Regardless of how you feel about rankings, it’s the world we live in . . . whether you are looking at colleges or finding a doctor, some of us find the information useful in making decisions.

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