Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NJ Monthly high schools ranking...what does it mean?

Someone asked me yesterday, "Why did Ridgewood drop from #7 to #20 in the latest New Jersey Monthly ranking?" I went through the data and the methodology to see what I could find out.

First, it's important to note that the schools in the top 20 tend to move around within that 20 from year to year. In 2006 Ridgewood was #24 overall. In 2008 Ridgewood was #7 overall. And now for 2010, we are #20. I suspect in 2012 we will be somewhere else in the top 20. (Note: it's a bi-annual list.)

The NJ Monthly ranking looks at three main areas: school environment (class sizes, faculty ratios, etc.), performance (test scores) and outcomes (college plans).

In the important areas of performance & outcomes, Ridgewood scores very well:
SAT Scores #4
Math Scores #4
Language Scores #10
AP Classes #6
Students going to 4-year college #5 (tie)

To me, those are the most important things, and we do well in those areas.

It is true that as the largest school in the top 20, we have higher average class size (#19) and faculty:student ratio (#17). We have held to those class sizes and teacher ratios over the past few years, even as enrollment has grown and budgets have shrunk. All of the schools in the top 20 are smaller than Ridgewood, and almost half were able to reduce their average class sizes from 2008 to 2010. Our budget did not allow us to do that, so that probably contributed to our lower ranking.

The other thing that contributed to our lower ranking was our percentage of students scoring 3 or better on AP Exams. In 2010 we were ranked #17. One of the reasons for this is Ridgewood's policy to require all students in AP classes to take the AP exams. Previously in Ridgewood (and still in some of the other high performing districts), students were allowed to opt out of taking the AP exam. We think requiring all students to take the exams is better for the students, but it also means that some lower scores are now factored into our average. This is not the case in all the top 20 schools.

When you look at the data, all the schools in the top 20 are very similar to each other and very small statistical differences are required in order to create a ranking.

I could probably do more analysis to see what exactly caused our change from 2008 to 2010, but the reasons have as much to do with changes in the other schools as they do with changes (or non-changes) in Ridgewood. For our part, it seems to boil down to a combination of higher class sizes, higher faculty ratios and lower AP exam scores.

Personally, I try not to give much weight to magazine rankings, and instead focus on our successful achievement, as reflected in our test scores, SAT scores and college plans.


Anonymous said...

Excellent explanation. Thank you Laurie.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a very good explanation, thank you.