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Why we care AND DON’T care about Park City school rankings

As you probably know, Park City High, long considered one of the best schools in the state, fell out of the “US News Best Schools” rankings a few years back. According to US News, the best high school in the state is Skyline (near the base of Parley’s Canyon). There are a total of 26 Utah high schools that were given rankings 2016, including Wasatch High in Heber (ranked 21st). Park City is unranked, so we guess if all you care about is rankings, we’d recommend moving to Heber (or better yet to Olympus Cove). However, we believe there is more to the story than that. As we’ve learned about how US News ranks schools, it has shown why we both care and couldn’t care less about these rankings.

How does US News determine their rankings? Its based on a 4 step process. If you don’t pass the first 3 steps, you are unranked. Here are the steps:

  1. Identify high schools that performed better than expected on state accountability assessments, given their population of economically disadvantaged students; or were in the top 10% of the state’s distribution of performance.
  2. Identify high schools whose disadvantaged students performed better than the state average for disadvantaged students.
  3. Identify high schools that met a basic criterion for graduation rates (> 68% graduation rate).
  4. Identify high schools that performed best in providing students with access to challenging college-level coursework.

Looking at the data, Park City passed step 1 with flying colors. We were 6.3 points better than expected based on the proficiency of our students in Math and English. Top Utah school, Skyline, was 4.6 points better than expected. So, our district rocked that one.

Park City also easily would have passed step 3 with a graduation rate of 91%. We would have done well on step 4 with a College Readiness Index (based on AP exams) of 58.7. Skyline was a little better at 60.3 but we would likely be in the top 5 of high schools in Utah.

Oops, what step did we leave out? Yep #2 — the assessment of how well a school district meets ALL kids’ needs. We didn’t fare so well there. Park City High School was 1.5% below the state average in proficiency of disadvantaged students (defined as black, hispanic, and low-income by US News). That’s not so good. That’s also why we were not ranked.

So, if you have a middle class or above income and have a white kid, congratulations, your child goes to the second best high school in the state!!! The problem becomes when that’s not the case.

The school district isn’t blind to this fact and that’s part the reason behind two recent initiatives. The first is dual immersion. Studies about quality dual immersion programs have shown that English language learners (ELL) who have been in dual immersion programs since first grade are generally proficient in English and math by fifth or sixth grade.

The second step was the introduction of all day Kindergarten (and pre-K). The thought being that all day Kindergarten (versus half day) would close the educational gap for ELL students and low-income students. Unfortunately the research on full-day versus half day is a mixed bag. Studies generally show that all day Kindergarten increases performance in the short-term. This is especially so in ELL and low-income groups. However, other studies show the difference gained for students in all day K versus half day wears off over time. Likewise, other studies don’t seem to see any math proficiency benefits for ELL or low-income children attending all day K.

There have also been other changes that the school district is undertaking to help ELL and low-income students improve their educational experience.

The take-away is that the Park City School District is trying. The other take away is that this could take a long time to impact high school rankings. This year’s rankings are based on 2013-2014 data. So, they are 2-3 years old. Likewise, Kindergartners won’t be in high school for 8 years and it could take dual immersion ELL students years to achieve proficiency (and impact high school rankings).

So look for that return to rankings sometime around 2028. ????

Like we said, we CARE and DON’T CARE about the rankings. We care because it shows an Achilles heal in the district. Disadvantaged kids are both underperforming other kids (which unfortunately is the norm almost everywhere) but also doing worse than the state average (at least as of 2014). It’s just not fair with the resources we have in our community.

We don’t care about the rankings, outside of that (major) flaw, because we have a district that seems to educate children well. We have good teachers. We have small class sizes (our student to teacher ratio is 19:1 while Skyline’s is 25:1 for instance). Whether we are ranked or not, it doesn’t change that.

We have a well performing district, with the exception of that big but… That said, it’s more important to us to make sure everyone gets a quality education (that prepares them for the future) than an arbitrary ranking that may help one of our students get into Stanford.

All that said, we do have a gripe. During the last few years we have heard school officials say that they want to have the best schools not only in Utah but in the country. We love the moxie, but in researching this story we learned what THE BEST really meant. The best high school (according to US News) is The School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas but it only has 248 kids. So, let’s take the 7th best school in the country — Pine View School in Sarasota. Pine View has 2148 kids (by the way it’s 2nd grade to 12th to add some fire to the grade realignment discussion). Minorities make up 26% of the population (Ours is 17%) and 11% of the kids are economically disadvantaged (Ours is 14%) . They have a graduation rate of 100% (Ours is 91%). 100% of students take AP exams and 99% pass (74% of our students take AP classes and 72% pass). 99% of students are proficient in Math (ours is 44%) and 99% are proficient in English (ours is 52%). 98.1% of disadvantaged kid are proficient in both Math and English (ours is 16.9% proficient).

Is Park City High and Pine View a perfect comparison. Of course not. That said, to truly be the best, it shows we have a long way to go.

To truly be among the best we need a lot of improvements — for all students. We hope the district is up to the task.







FYI, Pine View is ostensibly “public” but it is also basically a magnet school for gifted/talented kids. The comparison is a little ridiculous – it would be roughly equivalent to pulling the top 10-20 kids from every high school in UT and making them a “school”.

I’d compare with Steamboat or Vail or Breck or some other ski/rich person town. Those will have similar demographics and are open to all residents of the county.
Here’s Summit (Breck):

PC compares *very* favorably there.

In the grand scheme of things, I agree with the basic premise – PC has a great high school, and a great school system overall. We have horribly failed a segment of our students, though – there is just no way our minority/disadvantaged kids should be doing as badly as they are with the resources we have.


Yeah, the “offense” I take is when the district says they are going to be the best in the country… then they are playing with the big boys who have the deck stacked in their favor.

If they want to say “we are going to be the best district in the Mountain West, that is a resort community, with 30 miles of a major city”… fine… then say that.

But, I’d rather them say, “I guarantee you that by 2019, our disadvantaged students will be on par with other districts in the state. By 2020 they will exceed state averages and by 2025 disadvantaged students will have be on par with non-disadvanataged students. We will do whatever it takes to meet those goals and if we don’t we are personally responsible.”

Like mentioned in the article, I think they are taking steps in that direction but I would rather have the complete focus on that and not school rankings. Similar to what you have said before, I believe the average non-minority, middle-class student will do just fine… even if the focus is shifted (even more) for the next 5 years to get this in check.


Do not expect excellence from a district with this superintendent. We need someone with real experience and demonstrated leadership skills.


You may be right, but the problems that our disadvantaged students are having (as Josh pointed out, the kids taking the tests now were kindergardeners 10 years ago) predate our current superintendent.


I remember being in a school district master planning meeting with the Superintendent before the bond failure. She basically said that there were so many things not in place when she arrived (i.e., curriculum maps, etc). I sort of wrote it off, like “sure.” However, as we all discuss this more I think this is an example where she was spot on. I wonder whether disadvantaged students have been ignored for a long time or whether there were attempts but they just weren’t successful. Either way, I would say much of our current performance in this area isn’t attributable to Dr Conley. However, the decisions she has made to try to rectify it are on her (and the board). The grade school realignment is a MAJOR shake-up and the results had better be in line with the degree off disturbance.

The unfortunate thing about judging the current Superintendent on this is that we won’t know whether grade realignment (and the further dual immersion push) has helped for many years and it’s likely we will have a new Superintendent by then (avg tenure of a Superintendent is something like 5 years). It will either be regarded as someone else’s success or failure, and most people won’t remember the origins (for better or worse).


Read the information from the district surveys, ‘What Counts,’ bond feedback, strategy group. Nothing changed. She still says ‘We hear you’ or ‘We are listening’ after she’s already made decisions or asks for feedback when she’s caught doing something stupid. My daughter’s teacher who works longer hours than the superintendent is actually who keeps things going in a positive way. She’s my champion.


To be fair, if you read through the focus group info (Josh has a link in a previous article) the basic elements of the bond (other than moving Dozier field) have widespread support. Can you be more specific about what you don’t like about the current realignment/expansion plans? I get a little tired of the “we need better leadership!” stuff without specific alternate ideas. We have more kids, and we have some kids doing poorly. So we need to do something. What would you prefer to do?


If I had to speculate (and why not?) I’d guess that PCSD has been on cruise control for a while – we have an affluent and well educated population and test scores and college readiness and such are going to reflect that even if the quality of instruction is mediocre.

The quality of instruction (from what I’ve seen – but my kids are 4 and 2) is great, but somehow disadvantaged kids have obviously been falling through the cracks for quite a while. As stupid as I think the USnews rankings are, the change they made to their system exposed that, which is (IMO) a good thing for Park City and our schools.

It is unfortunate that blame/credit probably will never be properly assigned. C’est la vie. We can only work to do our best and hope that we’re doing the right thing.


My concern is that we should not harm our current students. I don’t want worse education for the majority of our students in order to fix a problem that may not be able to be fixed. Maybe we can accomplish both?


I’m sure that’s everyone’s concern. Do you have a specific issue in mind? Josh was only mentioning minority student achievement (an acknowledged problem) but we also have a relatively rapidly growing population and aging infrastructure. I think in many cases people are conflating those separate issues. The HS expansion/realignment is probably needed to handle more kids, regardless of how you feel it’ll affect disadvantaged students.


What I would hate to see is all efforts being put behind fixing one segment of students and the majority suffering. Maybe the district does DLI in all schools for everyone to bring up test scores of hispanic students. My problem with what Parkrag said is that it implies we should do anything it takes to solve the problem. I don’t agree with that if it hurts the majority of students.


I think most people would agree. What evidence do you have that things like all-day kindergarden will hurt other students?

The current DLI situation (at least at Jeremy/Trailside where it’s French) arguably hurts Hispanic students, as it has proven to function basically as a segregation tool. The best way to run it would probably be to switch to Spanish for the DLI program.

Regardless, I haven’t heard much about reforming/changing DLI either way. I guess going to full DLI for everyone (Spanish) might be hard for the affluent kids who don’t speak it, but if you started in 1st grade, they’d do fine.

Keep in mind: disadvantaged students in PC do worse than *other disadvantaged students elsewhere in UT*. They are not just doing worse than their more affluent peers, they are doing *worse than expected* even taking their status into account. PC is actively failing as compared to the rest of the state in this area.

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