Schools Perplexed by Their High 'U.S News & World Report' Rankings

Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nevada, is the 13th best in the nation, according to  the prestigious list. But the principal says that's impossible. 


Landing on U.S. News & World Report's list of "Best High Schools" should have been a cause for celebration, not headaches. But that's not what's played out for educators in at least two states that apparently reported incorrect student information to the federal database used to help determine the rankings.

Jeff Horn, principal of Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nevada, concedes his first reaction wasn't exactly delight when he learned that his campus was No. 13 on U.S. News' rankings. Instead, he wondered if there had been a mistake.

Green Valley is a standout campus in Clark County, the nation's fifth-largest school district, with an enviable record of athletic championships, academic honors, and a nationally recognized fine arts program.

But the 13th best in the nation? Really?

"I know we're great, but I'm not sure we're that great," Horn told me. "We have a lot to be proud of here, and we're still proud of our students and staff regardless of the list."

The publication's formula for determining the best campuses is a combination of overall school performance on statewide proficiency tests, factoring in considerations for populations of disadvantaged students who typically score lower on such assessments. Schools that did well enough on those factors were then evaluated for "college readiness," using student achievement on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. U.S. News awarded gold, silver, or bronze medals to more than 4,850 top-performing schools.

As the Las Vegas Sun reported, incorrect student data for several high schools was filed by the Nevada Education Department to the Common Core of Data, a federal database used to compile statistics at the national level. In 2009, the year U.S. News used for the current rankings, Green Valley was shown as having 477 students -- including 78 seniors. The total enrollment is a factor in the news publication's formula for determining how well the school serves its at-risk populations.

The number of seniors is a key component for the "college readiness" scale, which is determined by taking the number of seniors who took and passed at least one AP or IB exam and dividing it by the total number of students in the senior class. U.S. News gave Green Valley (and the 25 other top-ranking high schools) perfect scores on that equation. Horn said there is no way that's accurate.

In response to media reports questioning the accuracy of the rankings, Robert Morse, U.S. News' director of data and research, put out a blog posting that he was looking into the situation and that the problem apparently originated with the Core of Common Data.

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Emily Richmond is the public editor for the National Education Writers Association. She was previously the education reporter for the Las Vegas Sun.

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