Once again Riverside-Brookfield High School placed very highly in the annual rankings of high schools by the Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report.
The Washington Post ranked RBHS 15th among high schools in Illinois while U.S. News ranked RBHS 24th out of 94 ranked schools in Illinois.
“These national rankings demonstrate our philosophy at Riverside-Brookfield High School,” said RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana in a press release. “By establishing high expectations for all students and allowing open access to rigorous curriculum taught by outstanding teachers, students can reach their full potential.”
Lyons Township High School did not make the Washington Post rankings for reasons LTHS officials don’t understand, but the high school was ranked 52nd in the state by U.S. News.
The Washington Post rankings are determined by something called the Challenge Index, which was developed by journalist Jay Matthews when he was at Newsweek Magazine.
The Challenge Index is determined by taking the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year and dividing that number by the number of graduates that year.
So the more AP tests given to a school’s students, regardless of how well students score on the AP test, the higher a school will rank.
This leads to some head-scratching results.
According to this year’s Washington Post rankings the top two high schools in Illinois are two little-known small Islamic schools in DuPage County, the College Prep School of America and the Islamic Foundation School.
Ranking third is Lincoln Park High School in Chicago, a selective-enrollment high school in Chicago with an International Baccalaureate program. Whitney Young High School, another Chicago magnet school ranked fourth and Stevenson High School, where former RBHS teacher Troy Gobble is the principal, ranks fifth.
Westmont High School, where former RBHS Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann is now the principal, was ranked eighth in the state by the Washington Post. RBHS skyrocketed up the then Newsweek rankings when Baldermann was in charge, as he placed a heavy emphasis on AP.
Morton East High School in Cicero, not normally thought of as high-performing school was ranked 13th, two spots ahead of RBHS, by the Washington Post apparently due to a recent push to emphasize AP in that school district.
According to its 2015 school report card issued by the Illinois State Board of Education, Morton East had a graduation rate of 59 percent and just 13 percent of students taking the state-mandated PARCC test were deemed “college-ready.” Its composite score for the ACT exam in 2015 was 16.4, well below the state average of 20.5.
New Trier High School, often thought of as one of the best non-selective enrollment high school in Illinois, was ranked 55th in the state by the Washington Post.
LTHS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Scott Eggerding said that he did not understand why LTHS did not make the Washington Post rankings. Last year 990 LTHS students took a total of 2,273 tests which would give it a Challenge Index of 2.228 good enough for 34th in the state.
Many have criticized the Challenge Index, because it doesn’t measure how well students do on AP tests.
LTHS Advanced Placement numbers increased last year as the school added two AP classes and eliminated accelerated-level classes in physics and senior English. The number of LTHS students taking AP tests jumped by 248 students in 2015 compared to 2014, while the number of tests taken rose by 625 tests.
With more LTHS students taking AP tests the pass rate, measured by a score of three or above, fell from 93 percent to 88 percent. Even so Eggerding was pleased with the results.
“A 5-percent difference is not huge especially when we increased by over 600 tests and almost 250 kids,” Eggerding said.
At RBHS, where a higher proportion of students took AP tests, the test pass rate in 2015 was 70.4 percent.
The U.S. News rankings are based on a four-step process which takes into account how well students did on state-mandated tests in reading and math, adjusting for their socioeconomic status, how well disadvantaged students perform, the graduation rate and the level of participation in and the results of AP tests.
Despite ranking lower than RBHS in the both the Washington Post and U.S. News rankings, LTHS comes out ahead of RBHS in one commonly watched measure, the average ACT score.
The average ACT score achieved by the LTHS Class of 2015 was 24.3 a full point higher than the 23.3 average ACT score recorded by the RBHS Class of 2015.
Eggerding says that he doesn’t place too much weight on the various newspaper and magazine rankings.
“I’m not quite sure what they achieve,” Eggerding said.