Verona High School has fallen to 70 from 53 in New Jersey Monthly magazine’s new ranking of the state’s top high schools. But before you grab a torch and pitchfork and head for the Board of Education office, know this: The drop may not be as significant as it seems.
New Jersey Monthly does its top school list every two years. The magazine changed its ranking methodology since the 2010 list was compiled and does not appear to have gone back to recalculate the older list to make an apples-to-apples comparison. (The magazine has not yet returned a call for comment.) The new methodology places greater weight on the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) exam, which all New Jersey students take in their junior year of high school, and on the number of students going to four-year colleges rather than two-year schools. Oh, and the data behind the magazine’s list is old. Really old, in list terms.
Verona’s performance on the HSPA has been rising. According to statistics provided by John Quattrocchi, president of the Verona Boad of Education, the percentage of VHS juniors scoring advanced proficient on the language arts part of the test rose from 14.7% on the 2010 test to 23.5% for 2011 and 29.3% for 2012. The percentage of advanced proficient on the math HSPA rose from 26.8% in 2010 to 30.6% in 2012. But those changes aren’t reflected in New Jersey Monthly‘s ranking because the 2012 list is based on 2010 HSPA scores; the more recent data is not included at all.
New Jersey Monthly‘s methodology also adds weight for students who scored a 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement test as a percentage of all juniors and seniors. The percentage in Verona was 41% in 2010, 38% in 2011 and 64% in 2012. But, again, those last two years do not factor into the magazine’s rankings. The recent curriculum changes at VHS have put more emphasis on AP courses, which has, according to Quattrocchi’s data, lifted enrollment in those classes from 170 in 2010 to 269 for the 2011-2012 school year. The projected enrollment for this year is 381, a 42% increase.
And the recession may not have been a smart time to emphasize four-year schools over community colleges and other post-secondary options. Roughly 15% of each of the last three graduating classes at VHS have gone to two-year colleges and vocational schools. Interestingly, the top New Jersey high schools on a list just compiled by Inside Jersey, a Star Ledger magazine, are vocational-technical county magnet schools. The Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering was tops on that list, with a score of 297.6 . Verona had a score of 221.1.
New Providence was tops on the New Jersey Monthly list. Cedar Grove ranked 74, up from 103 on the 2010 list. Caldwell was 46, virtually unchanged from 45 on the previous list. Montclair was 99, down from 94, while West Orange was 136, down from 128. Cedar Grove and Caldwell are in the same district factor group as Verona, which is a state-devised grouping of schools by resident income and demographics. There are 103 schools in DFG group I, but the Verona Board of Education most often compares us to schools like Glen Ridge and Cresskill. Glen Ridge has fallen to 12 from 4 on the New Jersey Monthly list, while Cresskill has risen to 29 from 55.
Parents can drive themselves more than a little bit crazy with school rankings. Newsweek, which uses a methodology different from either New Jersey Monthly or Inside Jersey, had Verona ranked 775 out of the top 1,000 public high schools in the country. Parents may want to spend more time with the so-called Report Cards developed by the New Jersey Department of Education on each school district. Those Report Cards, which are updated annually, include both academic performance and data on how money is spent on teaching and administration. The Report Card on VHS for the 2010-2011 school year is here.
Great perspectives on these rankings which on their own say very little. Thank you!
Thanks Mike. I’ve worked at media companies that put a lot of effort into their rankings (like Forbes and Crain’s) and media companies that didn’t, so I’ve seen a lot of good and bad ways to do lists to drive circulation.
And while we must watch to make sure that our schools do the best job they can to educate our kids, we have to remember that there is a larger purpose to education than rankings.