A Project for Better Journalism chapter
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Ranking the system: The consistencies and inconsistencies of high school ranking in the nation and state

Schools are always being compared to each other in the form of High School rankings. However, there are a lot of different websites that say many different things. On the New Berlin West web site, the photo rotation shows three different publications saying this school is one of the best in the nation or state.

Three questions may come to mind when seeing this: what is the method behind these rankings, where are other schools listed in relation to NBW, and what do other publications, not listed on our school website, have to say about our school?

The first question’s answer is relatively similar no matter what site you decide to visit. The most popular categories are: average ACT and SAT scores, graduation rate, college readiness, and enrollment. There are other criteria that are used, but when looking across the websites these are the ones most often used.

When looking at a list of four sites, Newsweek, the Washington Post, Niche, and U.S. News & World Report (USN), it seemed that Newsweek had the largest list of criteria measuring fifteen different areas. These include: AP scores, AP/IB/Dual Enrollment Composite, Poverty, Counselor/Student Ratio, Dual Enrollment Participation, Student Retention, and many others.

The Washington Post and Niche both had eight different areas. These ranged from four year graduation rate to age of the building; and from parent and student surveys on overall experience to the sports and athletics at that school.

Finally, USN has only five different areas. These are: college readiness index, AP tested, AP passed, mathematics proficiency, and English proficiency.

These four sites that are listed have different ways of ranking high schools, as shown above. However, these different ways were developed by many different creators that all have different beliefs on what separates a good high school from a great high school.

This really stands out on the site Niche. Most sites look at stats that are provided by the schools that submit a form about these topics. Niche has a different method, Niche measures the student and parent opinion by having a survey they can take about their school.

According to Niche.com, they “ believe that the quality of a school or district should be measured, at least in part, by the parents and students who actually go there.”

Chief Executive Officer Luke Skurman states, “They should also be measured by hard data and across a number of key factors so that no one factor dominates a ranking.”

When asked about Niche and their method of gathering data, the principal from New Berlin West, Michael Fesenmaier said, “They are getting a segment of the population that uses this system…They aren’t collecting the whole, they are collecting a portion of. So whatever that portion of that reports to them, to me, is the data.”

Niche’s survey format is open to the public on their website. One could easily make a free account on their site and give a very high or low rating without any evidence backing up why they think this. This is made possible by a five star rating system for all their respective criteria.

On the contrary, the other publications use submissions made strictly by fact sheets provided by the schools they rank. These sheets are filled out by the school administration with the true facts seen by the school. Once filled they are directly submitted to these publications for further examination and comparison by the publications.

Now just as some people may expect, the differences don’t stop there. When looking at the results of these sites one could almost forget they are measuring close to the same type of data. As expected USN, Newsweek, and the Washington Post all have similar placings putting New Berlin West at 5th,4th, and 8th, in the state respectively. On the other hand Niche has New Berlin West Placed 136th in the state of Wisconsin.

Seeing this difference in numbers one could begin to think about how these results impact what the administration does to improve west.

When asked about this Greg Depue stated the following, “No (we don’t look at these results and take them into consideration for change here at New Berlin West), and that’s an easy no. In life, if you go down the road of trying to meet the needs of others, you’re going down a rabbit hole that will never, never end. You’ve got to jump back to your goal in life.”

Fesenmaier was also asked how these results influence administration. “I look at it for where we are in comparison for other like schools and what we should be doing for our students,” he said. “I just look at it, see where we’re missing, make sure we’re reporting our data accurately, and then see if the work we are doing is going to support us to be on that list or not on that list.”

The school ranking system has been something that many students take for granted. Yet most really don’t understand exactly how the system works. The points given above are the results of months of research and they are to give clarity towards what these publications are providing schools.

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