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What Kept Lafayette, Rockwood Summit High Schools off U.S News Rankings?

The school district's Executive Director of Secondary Education believes some demographic fluctuations may explain why.

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.  

Thomas Paine May 06, 2013 at 08:09 PM
Mr. Rhodes, I see that you dug-out the data. Thanks for bringing it forward. It is indeed surprising that less than half of the students taking AP courses go on to take the AP exam. I know from speaking with my college freshman son that the kids are very much encouraged to take the AP exam. Also, and I think this is general for L.H.S.: a child that has accumulated a year-end A (or B, or C) and simply goes-in to take the AP exam will lock-in the A (or B, or C) while exempting the student from the final exam. Certain teachers will wild-card students' year-end grade to an A if they receive a 5 on the AP test; others do not do this, and, e.g. a B stays a B if the student earns an AP 5. AP tests cost $89, and some subjects (e.g. Gov and Physics) prepare you for two related AP exams each, so the costs can be high. My son took five exams each of Jun and Sen years, so the costs are high. This may play a reason for some kids not following through. Overall it is perplexing since an AP score of 3 is not so difficult one would think, and, for example with Missou, would earn college credit. So I am wondering what the course grade-curve looks like; whether a lot of the kids do not perform so well in these relatively advanced courses and thus waive-off the year-end AP exam. Could also be that not all families understand the implications of the AP exams.
Mathew May 07, 2013 at 12:27 AM
Looking at the following, where 92% of lafayette H.S. students taking the AP exam seem to have passed with a 3 or better, one wonders why less than half took the exam. Certainly additional students would have passed the AP if they tried. Perplexing. Maybe folks are just not knowledgeable of the benefits? Data below is from Advanced Placement® (AP®) Student Performance for Lafayette H.S. from http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/missouri/districts/rockwood-school-district/lafayette-sr-high-11883/test-scores. "Many U.S. higher educational institutions grant credits or advanced placement based on student performance on AP® exams. This shows this school's student participation and performance on these exams if data were available." Participation Rate 47% Participant Passing Rate 92% Exams Per Test Taker 3.9 Exam Pass Rate 90% Quality-Adjusted Participation Rate 43% Quality-Adjusted Exams Per Test Taker 3.8
Michael Rhodes May 07, 2013 at 01:33 PM
Thanks Mr. Romero. I hadn't thought about the test cost factor. I imagine that adds up quickly.
Thomas Paine May 07, 2013 at 03:28 PM
Further considering costs, I dug into memory, and this is enlightening. For my son, over three H.S. years we paid the following for college related testing. 1) > $1000 for my son to take twelve AP exams. 2) Add to this the cost of ACT test ($35) and (optional) ACT writing component (add $15). 3) The SAT test ($50), and the SAT subject tests (single $23 registration fee + $12 per subject); I think he took 3-4 subject tests. 4) Add-in that many kids take the ACT and/or the SAT twice; also that additional fees are charged if scores are sent to > 4 colleges. So all told, we paid ~$1300. Certainly atypical, but this is staggering when you roll it all up. Some observations: The spring ACT administered to the college-bound junior class at his H.S. did not include the writing component, and when my son selected colleges to apply to, he found that a couple required this, so he had to retake the ACT with the writing component. And some colleges required SAT's "subject tests", even though my son earned an AP test score of 5 in those subjects. As for valuing the AP tests, my son earned much AP credit but will not invoke all of it; reason being that, as an engineering major, his college councilor told him that it would be a mistake to AP-out of the college of engineering's "foundation" calculus and physics courses, which are more rigorous than a H.S. level AP course. But he is taking AP credit for several other courses, helping with his course load.
Thomas Paine May 07, 2013 at 03:32 PM
New rankings: Lafayette ranked 5th (go L.H.S.!) and Marquette ranked 6th in a state ranking of the most competitive high schools. In this Washington Post ranking, they both are in the top 1000 high schools in the nation. See: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/local/highschoolchallenge/schools/2013/list/missouri-schools/ Links also available through the RSD's web-site. Methodology is posted, too: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/abcs-of-americas-most-challenging-high-schools/2013/04/11/ca4f27aa-a2fb-11e2-82bc-511538ae90a4_story.html Note that RSD does not discourage potentially lower scoring students from taking the AP exam. In fact, data presented in these Comments suggests that more of our students would earn a passing score if more would take the exam. Like the Wizard of Oz with the Tin Man, we seem to have a need to seek some sort of validation of value when we are already fully aware that our schools are very good.

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