Superior “Great Schools” rankings? Think again.

Wheeling High School

Back in October, I dug into the state “report card” metrics for the District 214 school, and learned that, however much the district boasts of its top rankings and recognitions, behind that are some very troubling numbers, as Hispanic and low-income students perform only marginally better than the statewide average, and at some schools and subjects, worse than the state average for their particular demographic.

In that post, I showed the raw scores (percent of students who meet or exceed grade-level norms) for the district schools relative to the state.  Here’s a further way of looking at the data: how the district looks in a percentile comparison with all schools in the state.

Report card analysis by percentiles; own work
Report card analysis by percentiles; own work

At Buffalo Grove, Rolling Meadows, Elk Grove, and Wheeling, Hispanic students’ scores were below (or just barely at) the median, when considering Hispanic students’ scores at all Illinois high schools, in ELA (English-Language Arts).  The same is true for math at Elk Grove and Wheeling.  And at Meadows, Elk Grove and Wheeling, low-income students performed below the median (considering low-income students in all Illinois high schools) in ELA.

In terms of raw numbers, among the most shocking results was that only 17% of Hispanic 11th graders at Meadows are performing grade-level ELA work.

At the same time, Prospect and Hersey are doing just fine, with perfectly respectable percentile rankings for all demographic groups.  But these are the two schools which are the wealthiest/least poor and the whitest (least Hispanic).

Demographics by school
Demographics by school

Which brings me to Great Schools.

That is, for the uninitiated, the website which supplies rankings to the major real estate websites (Realtor, Zillow, etc.), so that parents can prioritize choosing a home in a good school district or in the catchment area of a good school.  And yesterday a friend noticed that the rankings for District 214 schools had dropped — and had dropped dramatically.

Here are those rankings, along with some for selected neighboring schools:

School rankings
School rankings

Each school’s ranking can be viewed by searching by name at GreatSchools.org, and the old rankings can be viewed by copying the URL into the search box at the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine.  For most schools, the “old” ranking is from somewhere between August and October; dates vary by school because the archiving is done somewhat manually and the dates available vary by school.

Why did the rankings for Buffalo Grove and Meadows drop so shockingly? Because the site changed its metrics to assess how schools perform on “equity” metrics, including such issues as how great the divide is between disadvantaged groups and the rest of the school.  (The “equity” component of the rankings has been there for some time, but, without fanfare, they appear within the past several months to have increased the relative weighting of this component.) As we’ve seen, there are substantial disparities at District 214 schools.  I suspect the reason why Prospect and Hersey seem to escape relative unscathed is not that they do a better job of reaching these kids but that “their” disadvantaged kids are relatively less disadvantaged, relatively more likely to be middle class kids of Latino ancestry, for example, and because, in general, disadvantaged kids are more likely to succeed if they’re surrounded by non-disadvantaged kids.  So here are the “Equity Overview” rankings as well as the key demographic info for these schools.  (In no case is the percent of black students large enough to be relevant.)

School rankings with demographics
School rankings with demographics

As an added bonus, a school with virtually no minorities at all, such as New Trier in Winnetka, with 4% Hispanic and 4% low-income, doesn’t even get an “equity ranking” at all, so, like Stevenson, they stay safely ensconced in their 10 ranking.

So what’s the bottom line?

It certainly feels unfair that schools which are lily-white emerge unscathed from this reweighting of the ranking calculation.  From a practical point of view, it also suggests that the already-existing practice of parents seeking to move to the Prospect High School catchment area as their child is about to start high school will intensify, boosting property values in that area and creating a stagnation in neighboring areas, for instance, just across Arlington Heights Rd., similar in most respects but where students attend Meadows.

Will this mean that white, middle-class communities, concerned about the impact on their property values, will pay more attention to how well disadvantaged students are learning?

Is there, practically speaking, much that can be done about it?

In any case, it will make it harder for school board members and school administration to trumpet their accolades in the face of evidence that their schools’ success is due to a large tax base and a student population of upper middle-class families, rather than to superior governance and administration.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Kathy says:

    For all the equity speak coming from a Liberal institution who insist on lecturing and shaming children because they are white-apparently have a lot to learn themselves. Thank you for shedding light on this.

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