For reasons that are not entirely clear, Riverside-Brookfield High School has fallen precipitously in the latest Best High Schools rankings published by the magazine U.S. News & World Report. A year after being ranked 24th in the state by the magazine, RBHS did not even make the top 195 schools in the state this year.
In contrast, Lyons Township High School, which serves the southern half of Brookfield, was ranked 17th in the state by U.S. News. But even that news was greeted without a lot of enthusiasm by Scott Eggerding, director of curriculum and instruction at LTHS, who cast a wary eye at this year’s rankings generally.
“We don’t get too excited about national rankings, since they tend to place heavy emphasis on state test scores and AP tests that don’t take into account the whole depth and breadth of the curriculum that we offer,” Eggerding said. “That being said, we are proud of our students and believe we have made strides in offering more rigorous courses to more students, so if the ranking can shine a light on that, then I’ll take it.”
U.S. News uses a four-step system to rank high schools and divides schools into four categories: Gold Medal for the very best schools, Silver Medal, Bronze Medal, and Unranked.
LTHS was awarded Silver Medal status while RBHS was unranked this year. In all, 195 high schools in Illinois were ranked.
Eggerding noted that several schools that are typically rated as excellent schools in Illinois – including Oak Park and River Forest and New Trier high school, did not receive numerical state ranks by U.S. News in this latest list. New Trier was listed as receiving Bronze Medal status.
“Many schools that are usually ranked are not in the rankings this year,” Eggerding said.
Northside College Prep, a selective enrollment school, was the top-ranked high school in Illinois by U.S. News. Stevenson High School was ranked sixth in the state and was the highest ranked non-selective enrollment high school in Illinois.
Former RBHS Science Department chair Troy Gobble is the principal at Stevenson. Gobble was a finalist for the job of principal at RBHS in 2010, but was passed over in favor of Pam Blysma.
RBHS did not pass the first step in the winnowing process which is that students perform better than expected on state-mandated tests, given the socio-economic characteristics of the student population, according to Robert Morse, the chief data strategist at U.S. News & World Report.
Last year public high schools in Illinois were mandated by the state to administer the PARCC exam in reading and math. Schools could choose which grade level to test. RBHS chose to give the test to sophomores, while LTHS gave the PARCC exam to freshmen.
This year the PARCC exam was discontinued at the high school level in Illinois, and instead all juniors recently took the SAT exam.
“Next year’s Illinois rankings will still include the PARCC,” Eggerding said. “Then we will be ranked using SAT. I expect there to be lots of movement up and down for schools until we have had two or three years of SAT testing.”
RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana said that many students did not take the PARCC seriously, since it had no bearing on their chances for college admission or on their grades.
“One major criteria of the U.S. News rankings this year is performance on the first administration of PARCC assessment,” Smetana said in an email. “Due to many concerns regarding the validity and reliability of this test, the state discontinued the test after only two years of administering it at the high school level.
“Therefore, we do not place much weight on the PARCC assessment and continue to look at multiple measures when determining student success and college readiness.”
ACT scores have bounced around a bit at RBHS in recent years. The RBHS Class of 2014 had an average ACT score of 22.5, while the average composite ACT score for the class of 2015 jumped to 23.5. The average ACT composite score for the Class of 2016 fell to 22.1.
RBHS actually scored higher than LTHS in U.S. News’s College Readiness index with a score of 58.7 compared to 51.7 for LTHS.
According to U.S. News, 70 percent of RBHS students took an Advanced Placement exam and 77 percent of RBHS’ AP test takers earned a passing score.
At LTHS, which has a more selective AP program, 56 percent of students took an AP class and 90 percent of those AP test takers earned a passing score.