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.
A subsequent investigation has determined that there was indeed incorrect information in the federal database, said Marilyn Seastrom, chief statistician and acting deputy commissioner of the National Center on Education Statistics, which oversees the Core of Common Data. The safeguards in place to verify that submitted information is accurate didn't catch the errors, Seastrom said.The error for Green Valley originated with data submitted by the Nevada Department of Education.
Seastrom told me her staff has reviewed the database's information for the top 100 schools in the rankings. So far, the only errors identified were for Green Valley and two California campuses, San Marcos High School (No. 11), and Dublin High School (No. 12) -- which had already publicly voiced its own doubts about its high ranking.
"In Dublin, we model what we teach, and we teach the importance of truth," wrote Dublin Unified School District Superintendent Stephen Hanke in a press release. "Our high school may not be ranked 12 according to a magazine, but the manner in which they are handling this disappointment demonstrates that they are number one when it comes to maturity, integrity and character."