By Bob Skolnik
Neither Lyons Township High School nor Riverside-Brookfield High School made the U.S. News & World Report list of the top 100 high schools in Illinois, but administrators at both schools aren't very concerned about it, saying that the rankings are based on a discontinued test that students didn't take seriously.
U.S. News ranked Chicago selective-enrollment high school Payton College Prep as the top high school in Illinois. Stevenson High School, where former RBHS science department chairperson Troy Gobble is the principal, was ranked seventh and was the highest non-selective enrollment high school in the rankings.
Last year LTHS was ranked 17th in the state by U.S. News. Why the big drop for LTHS this year?
"We have no idea," said Scott Eggerding, the director of curriculum and instruction at the high school, which serves the south half of Brookfield and has campuses in LaGrange and Western Springs.
The magazine uses a four factors to determine its rankings. The first is that ranked schools must outperform state averages on state-mandated math and reading tests, factoring in the percentage of low-income and minority students.
A key factor is whether low-income and minority students at a school perform better than the state average for such students.
Apparently, both LTHS and RBHS did not clear this first hurdle and were classified as "unranked." U.S. News classifies high schools as gold-, silver- and bronze-medal schools or as unranked.
"Lyons Township High School did not pass Step 1 in the four-step methodology, as the school's aggregate performance on state tests was not high enough to pass," said Robert Morse, U.S. News' chief data strategist, in an emailed statement.
Only 13 Illinois high schools received the gold-medal ranking, 54 were rated as silver medal and 115 schools were rated as bronze.
This year's rankings are based on test results from the 2015-16 school year, when Illinois high schools administered the PARCC exam which has since been replaced by the SAT test for high school students.
High schools could administer the PARCC to whichever they grade level they chose, with a different test for each grade level. LTHS gave the PARCC to freshmen while RBHS gave the PARCC to sophomores.
Many high school administrators had no use for the PARCC test, saying that students didn't give their best effort, because the test had no impact on their futures. High schools also received little analysis of the PARCC results.
"It was a complete and utter fiasco," Eggerding said of the PARCC exam. "I've got to be honest anything that has to do with PARCC, it means nothing to us. It didn't mean anything to the kids."
RBHS Principal Kristen Smetana also said that she didn't put much stock into any ranking based on performances on the PARCC Exam.
"That year was the second and last year of administering the PARCC test at the high school level," Smetana said in an email. "Unfortunately, utilizing the PARCC results do not yield a consistent comparison among schools, because each school was able to select the grade level that they administered the test to. Obviously there were many additional concerns about the PARCC test at the high school level, which is why it was only administered for two years."
Eggerding noted that highly regarded high schools such as New Tier High School, Oak Park and River Forest High School, Highland Park High School, Deerfield High School and all of the Glenbard high schools also were "unranked" by U.S. News.
"These are all schools that are very high-performing," Eggerding said. "We're in good company, I guess."
According to information in the U.S. News report, 50 percent of LTHS students taking the PARCC exam in 2016 were ranked as proficient in reading while only 31 percent were classified as proficient in math.
"If a student is not taking a test very seriously they'll read a story and answer questions, but if they see a problem they don't even want to bother with, they'll just skip it," said Eggerding, in offering a hypothesis on why the math scores were so low.
At RBHS, 39 percent of students were rated as proficient in reading and 34 percent were rated as proficient in math.
Fifty-two percent of LTHS students took an Advanced Placement exam, with an 88-percent pass rate on AP exams. RBHS had a 58 percent participation rate in AP classes, with a 75-percent pass rate.
Administrators often struggle to figure out the ranking systems various organizations use and typically don't put a lot of stock in the rankings.
"Any of those rankings you're happy to be ranked, but you never quite understand why you are or you aren't," Eggerding said.