Last year, among more than 14,000 high schools reviewed by Newsweek for its Top High School list, New Hope-Solebury High School was ranked 58th in the nation, third place in Pennsylvania, and number one in Bucks County.
Fast-forward to 2015: New Hope-Solebury has dropped to number 392 nationally, and ranks sixteenth among Pennsylvania high schools, according to this year’s just-published Newsweek list.
Although the validity of the rating systems used by national print publications has been controversial since their inception, New Hope-Solebury School District touted the rankings last year (“This is another shining credit to our outstanding high school…”), and this publication covered their reaction as a “feel-good” story. Critics say “best school” lists can potentially do more harm than good by unintentionally masking challenges that may need to be addressed.
So why the drop?
The media relations team at Newsweek was helpful, saying, “As our FAQ states, the ranking of schools each year is relative to the set of schools that participated in the survey in that given year. The variance in the sets of participating schools is a large part of the reason why a school’s rank can change from year to year. To a lesser degree, the change in rank may have been caused by the fact that their college enrollment rate (highest-weighted criterion for us) dropped a couple of percentage points from last year, and it’s a tight race between the top schools.”
Observed New Hope parent Judy Finn, with two of her children attending high school, “It’s disappointing to see a statewide drop in standardized testing scores and its effect on polls like Newsweek, but encouraging to see consistently higher results from NHS students.
“SAT/ACT scores and percentage of college-bound students are important measures of bricks-and-mortar education combined with (as importantly) the students’ out-of-school support, i.e. parents,” added Finn. “It would be nice to see a side-by-side comparison of the last few years’ test results for more clarity.”
New Hope-Solebury School District Assistant Superintendent Steven M. Yanni was also forthcoming about possible reasons for the high school’s steep fall in the Newsweek list: “If you sort the list by state, you’ll see that we experienced the drop along with several others. In fact, some local high-performing high schools didn’t even make the list,” said Yanni.
“I believe that this is due, in part, to the new state assessments,” he continued. “Across the Commonwealth, we saw a substantial drop in PSSA scores. Conversely though, we saw solid Keystone, as well as Advanced Placement scores. What is never completely clear is the algorithm used to determine the rankings.
“We continue to be proud of our students and staff for their achievements,” added Yanni. “As we work collaboratively with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to gain a better understanding of the new state assessments, I feel confident that our scores will rebound and our rankings will improve.”
A good answer, indeed.
As Jean-Luc Picard might say, “Make it so.”