Kennedy High School is Iowa’s best high school for the second year in a row, according to U.S. News and World Report.
The outlet released its 2014 Best High Schools list Monday and rated Kennedy, which landed in 708th place nationally, highest of the 12 ranked Iowa high schools. Four other high schools in Grant Wood Area Education Agency member districts also made the cut: Iowa City West High School (fourth statewide and 800th nationally), Linn-Mar High School (sixth statewide and 1,141st nationally), Williamsburg Jr./Sr. High School (ninth statewide and 1,567th nationally) and Iowa City High School (10th statewide and 1,696 nationally).
“That’s very cool,” said West High Principal Jerry Arganbright. “I try to make sure that my community knows if there’s a ranking, what it’s based upon. I think it’s important when you compare data points among high schools both in state and nationally, it’s important to share that. I think there’s certainly a point of pride. … I think that’s something we certainly recognize and pay attention to and certainly pass along to students and teachers because the only reason we’re ranked is because of the work they do.”
The U.S. News and World Report list ranks 2,019 public high schools in all 50 states and Washington D.C. based on enrollment and academic achievement data from the 2011-12 school year.
Among the criteria used to evaluate the schools are students’ performance on statewide math and reading proficiency tests, specifically whether rates were above the state’s average, as well as participation in Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. Analyses also took into account rates of students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunches and performance of those learners, as well as blacks and Latinos, on math and reading proficiency tests.
The U.S. News list differs from the Washington Post’s America’s Most Challenging High Schools list, released earlier this year. Columnist Jay Mathews ranked seven Iowa buildings, including Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, which is a private school. Administrators had the option to submit their schools for inclusion on that ranking, which is based on the ratio of the amount of AP, IB and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests students take at a school divided by the amount of seniors who graduated that year.
Kennedy ranked second in Iowa on that list. Ames, Decorah and City high schools took fourth, fifth and sixth places respectively statewide, while ranking second, third and 10th respectively in the U.S. News chart for Iowa. Linn-Mar, Williamsburg and West did not make the Washington Post list while Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, which took first in Iowa for the Washington Post slate, didn’t qualify for the U.S. News rankings.
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Washington High School Principal Ralph Plagman said he prefers the Washington Post list because “it’s more of a level playing field,” particularly for larger urban schools with high socioeconomic and racial diversity.
“If you look historically at state tests, or any of those standardized tests, the more diverse socioeconomically a school is, the more they struggle and that’s nationwide,” he said, which U.S. News acknowledges in explaining its methodology. “When students take an AP course and exam, they have engaged in a rigorous process that is pretty regulated by The College Board (which administers the AP program). … It’s the closest thing we have to a national curriculum.”
Linn-Mar High School Principal Jeff Gustason said “it’s always nice” to be included in a ranking but said his focus is on providing meaningful opportunities for all students as well as achievement, as opposed to participation, on exams.
“If you’re a student who’s struggling and your school’s ranking is really high and you’re a parent of that student, the ranking doesn’t matter,” he said. “We always know there are things we need to improve on and we’re focusing on that as well. ... I don’t think you ever run wrong of challenging students but there are different ways to do that and not all of them get measured.”
Click here for the complete list of ranked Iowa high schools.