Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Roosevelt named a "Best High School" by US News

After the bad news a few weeks ago, it was definitely nice to pick up the newspaper and see this on the front page of the December 12 Record-Courier:

Yes, Roosevelt was named in the US News & World Report 2010 "America's Best High Schools" issue. Like with any ranking system for something so large (21,786 high schools analyzed), when looking over it, one must look at the methodology behind the study. Why is it one of the best? Based on what? For instance, Newsweek released their own "Best High Schools" list a few months ago and Roosevelt was nowhere to be found. Why? Because Newsweek's study focused on AP scores and how many students took AP classes at a given school. As a result, what I call the typical "heavyweights" -- the local high schools that typically do well on standardized tests and are in communities with higher median incomes -- were well represented in that ranking. These are places like Shaker Heights, Chagrin Falls, Solon, Hudson, etc. They are usually regarded quite highly educationally and for good reason: they have excellent facilities, more educational opportunities and resources, and many, if not most, of the students come from wealthier and highly educated backgrounds and largely stable families. In other words, it is more likely for these schools to not only have a larger percentage of students who take AP (Advanced Placement) classes, but do well on the tests associated with them. In the US News study, however, none of the traditional "heavyweights" made the list at all as it focused on other factors such as looking at the performance of students classified as "economically disadvantaged" and minorities. Roosevelt was one of only 8 schools in the region to make the entire list, and one of only 46 to be listed in the entire state. Roosevelt's ranking was a "Bronze Medal", the third highest ranking after the Gold Medal (top 100) and Silver Medal (461 schools). 1,189 schools in 48 states and Washington, DC were rated as "Bronze Medal" schools. What that means is that of the three major criteria used, Roosevelt did well in two. The other criterion, in this case, was either too low or not measured. Basically, Roosevelt did well when the magazine analyzed it's state proficiency test scores for low-income and minority students. Roosevelt is a somewhat diverse school, but is still predominantly white (87% from US News, 82% from the state of Ohio). To see the entire methodology explanation for this study, click here. The third criterion was based on AP scores and percentage of students who take AP or similar college-level classes (I personally think AP classes are harder than typical college classes). Roosevelt has eight AP classes available and usually does well on AP tests, but I would imagine the percentage of seniors who take them may have been what hurt there. It's not abnormally low, but compared to the schools that made the top 100, it probably isn't all that impressive. There are, of course, a lot of factors as to why certain students take AP classes and how well they do, many of which have little to do with the school itself.

One statistic that stood out to me was 84% of Roosevelt students classified as "economically disadvantaged." I'd first like to know what US News means by "economically disadvantaged" since that just seems a little high to me. Granted, there are a lot of students here who are poor, but there are also quite a few who are either middle class and even upper middle class. It's really quite a mix in Kent not only with race and ethnicity, but also financial status. The state, for instance, had only 26% of Roosevelt's students classified as "economically disadvantaged" according to the most recent state report card (it also had slightly different racial percentages, but not that much different). Obviously, there are two very different definitions and thresholds being used here.

That said, I've always felt Kent City Schools overall has done a good job in closing the gap between the students who come to school with a strong educational background and those who do not for whatever reasons. The state report cards always have Roosevelt doing as well as any of the other high schools in the area that come from districts rated "Excellent." Because of test scores at the elementary schools, Kent is rated "Effective," again because they typically have to play "catch up" for so many students. Holden Elementary School, for example, has 62% of its students classified as "economically disadvantaged" by the state and many come from very poor and unstable families. And yet, by high school, Kent students are right up there on the state test scores with students at other high schools who come largely from more stable and in many cases wealthier families. About 10 years ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer did a study and ranked Kent best in the state when actual test scores were compared with expected test scores, based on socioeconomic status. While a person's financial status doesn't guarantee a specific educational outcome, we do know it has a significant influence on a large amount of people. In other words, it is more likely for a student who comes from a poor, unstable home to not do well in school than it is for someone who comes from a better-off and stable home. And there are *always* exceptions, for sure, both good and bad. And no, standardized test scores are by no means a "tell-all" stat, nor are the state report cards. They tell just part of what is going on at a school.

Even then, it is still exciting for an outside group, particularly one at the national level, to recognize your school for anything positive like this. As an alum and community member and now as an employee, I'm very proud of my alma mater! Go Kent!

See also:
Oh, and seeing the following on the top of the same front page and in the sports section didn't hurt either. :) It's an appropriate title given the fact that in sports this year, Roosevelt has won every meeting between the two schools in every sport except the one-point overtime loss in football.

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