May 23, 2013

Waterville, Winslow schools' rankings by national magazine better than state's grades

US News & World Report uses different criterion, focus than state's A-through-F system

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Waterville and Winslow high schools, average according to the state's new grading system, are ranked among the top 12 in the state by a national magazine.

click image to enlarge

Waterville Senior High School teacher Tom Creeley leads an English class on Wednesday. Waterville and Winslow high schools are among the best in the state, according to a report released by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

Staff photo by David Leaming

UU.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT'S 2013 BEST HIGH SCHOOLS

To see the schools selected from Maine, go to http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/maine/rankings?int=c0b4c1.

To view the criteria U.S. News & World Report used to select schools, go to http://www.usnews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2013/04/22/how-us-news-calculated-the-2013-best-high-schools-rankings.

For 2013 Maine School Performance Grading System report, issued by Maine Department of Education: http://www.maine.gov/doe/schoolreportcards/

Further data on Maine schools, issued by Maine DOE:

http://maine.gov/doe/dataresources/warehouse.html

SCHOOL RANKINGS

Waterville Senior High School, ranked 1,963 nationally

Winslow High School, ranked 1,983 nationally

Student-Teacher Ratios

Waterville: 13:1

Winslow: 11:1

statwide average: 12:1

College readiness: Percentage of students who tested, passed college-level courses

Waterville: 24 percent tested, 17 percent passed

Winslow: 20 percent tested, 18 percent passed

Math performance on SAT exam:

Waterville: 49 percent proficient, 51 percent not proficient

Winslow: 53 percent proficient, 47 percent not proficient

Reading performance based on SAT exam:

Waterville: 48 percent proficient, 52 percent not proficient

Winslow: 57 percent proficient, 43 percent not proficient

Officials at both schools and state education officials differ on whether that distinction means anything, however.

Waterville Senior High School ranked 11th and Winslow High School 12th among the 120 public high schools in Maine, according to U.S. News & World Report magazine.

Both schools were given a C grade earlier this month by the 2013 Maine School Performance Grading System.

The rankings are based on different criteria, particularly on graduation rates and whether socioeconomic factors have an impact on student performance. The two reports also take different tests into account: The U.S. News & World Report rank uses advanced placement tests, which not all high schools in Maine require; the state's report used the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is required by all schools.

The magazine report also took socioeconomic factors into account, although most of the top 10 schools in its rankings are from communities considered affluent. It also didn't take into account graduation rates.

Samantha Warren, director of communications for the state Department of Education, said the magazine used 2010-11 information from the state, and some of its criteria are things the state chose not to use in its own rankings.

"The measurements that they looked at are things that we don't find meaningful and actionable," she said.

But Eric Haley, superintendent of Waterville and Winslow schools, disagreed that the U.S. News & World Report ranking is any less accurate or reflective of how students are performing than the state system.

"You can take existing data and, depending on how you manipulate it, use it and present it, you can make it say whatever you want it to say," he said.

Different criteria

The magazine's 2013 Best High Schools rankings were based on four criterion: student-to-teacher ratio, college readiness, percentage of students who took and passed advanced placement tests in reading and math, and the percentage of those showed proficiency in the two subjects.

The state measured student achievement in reading and math; growth/progress in achievement and performance and growth of the bottom 25 percent of students, for elementary schools; and graduation rates, for high schools.

U.S. News & World Report produced the report in conjunction with American Institutes for Research, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that is one of the largest behavioral and social-science research organizations in the world.

The team analyzed 21,035 public high schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

The highest ranked Maine school was Maine School of Science & Mathematics, a magnet school in Limestone, followed in order by Yarmouth, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Wells, Camden Hills Regional, Scarborough, Kennebunk, Greely and Bangor high schools.

Warren said it's important to look at the criterion. For instance, Waterville High school's graduation rate is 72 percent and the state average is 84 percent, something the magazine didn't take into account.

She also said that the state doesn't take the wealth of a community into account when looking at a school's performance. In the state assessments, some schools from poorer communities are high performing.

But Haley said the first criteria U.S. News & World Report listed for the ranking system is whether each school's students were performing better than statistically expected for the average student in the state, given a school's demographics.

He said schools get children at varying stages of readiness and what is important is where schools take them from there.

He said one of the impressive things about the performance of Waterville and Winslow high schools, part of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, is that most of the schools that scored higher are in more affluent communities.

(Continued on page 2)

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