WHS in Newsweek’s “Top High Schools” list

West High was recently honored in Newsweek’s annual “America’s Top Public High Schools” listing, with a ranking of 1091 in the nation.  WHS is one of 15 Tennessee schools making the list.  And no, it has nothing to do with my news.

The ranking is based on an interesting measurement:  take the total number of AP tests taken (they include International Baccalaureate tests in this number) and divide that number by the number of graduating seniors.  Every school with a 1.0 ratio of tests taken to students graduating makes the list, and the list is ordered by the ratio.  The top school has a ratio of 17.167–that is, for every graduating senior, more than 17 AP/IB tests were taken by students in the school.  West’s number is 1.31.

While it’s a great honor, it seems a little odd to measure that, doesn’t it?  Look at some of the measures they could have chosen, but didn’t:

  • The ratio of AP tests passed to graduating students
  • The ratio of students attempting AP tests to graduating students
  • The ratio of students attempting AP tests to attending or enrolled students

I know that such an undertaking of ranking US high schools has to be statistically quick and dirty, and the index creator Jay Matthews has a very interesting FAQ page (it’s more like 5 pages) that explains a lot of the rationale.  It seems that the major question he’s asking is this:  given a school’s general size [graduating seniors], how many students are purposefully preparing for higher levels of education, and to what degree [number of tests attempted]?

The measure grasps at harder-to-measure criteria like motivation and achievement culture more than actual achievement, but I like it and give Mr. Matthews a lot of credit for the design.  Direction is so much more important a factor in any organization’s health than is position, and WHS looks to be on a good track.

Go Rebs!


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