When U.S. News and World Report unveiled its annual list of Missouri high school rankings last week, the magazine placed two of the four high schools in the Rockwood School District in its top five.
District officials said they are honored to have Eureka and Marquette high schools recognized, but cautioned that the data used in the rankings are only one way to measure student performance.
“It’s a piece of data that show our schools performing well, that’s always a plus,” said Jim Wipke, Executive Director of Secondary Education. “However, the way they measure things is not the way we measure ourselves.”
So, what kept Lafayette and Rockwood Summit high schools out? District officials said they have similar scores in terms of college readiness and English and Math proficiency. Instead, they believe it may have to do with the fluctuations in the demographics from school to school.
Wipke explained that in order to be considered for the list, schools had to meet a certain criteria that measured the performance of a school’s students with a greater socioeconomic disadvantage versus its highest achieving students.
The disadvantaged students are those considered on the district’s free or reduced lunch program. Nationwide, such students consistently perform more poorly than a district’s general population.
The U.S. News and World Report rankings looked at the difference in the number of students scoring “proficient” on state exams between the two groups.
“You are looking at proficiency on both ends and they just subtract the difference,” he said. “They want a small difference and if they don’t have a small difference … you don’t even advance to the next rounds.”
Wipke said that Rockwood high schools such as Lafayette and Rockwood Summit have such low populations of free/reduced lunch students that a few really bad performers can skew the average.
He also pointed to another factor that may have exacerbated this problem. The rankings did not include students who are transfers into the district from outside of St. Louis County and Wipke said the results may have been different if it had counted the entire student body.
As an example, Wipke said the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary education considers Lafayette High School to have 10.6 percent of its student population categorized as on free/reduced lunch. The calculations used by U.S. News puts that same number at only 3 percent.
At the high school level, the district focuses much of its assessment efforts around preparing students for college by tracking their performance on AP exams and the ACT.
In this area, the U.S. News rankings measured college readiness by taking percentage of students who take AP courses and earned passing scores. By this yardstick, Wipke said the district’s high schools would have ranked 5, 6, 7 and 8, had Lafayette and Rockwood Summit been included.
You can compare the U.S. News data and the district’s own measurements for yourself by visiting the two organizations online. The magazine’s list of Missouri rankings can be found here, while the district provides a “Vision Scorecard” on its website here.