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:
- 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.
- Identify high schools whose disadvantaged students performed better than the state average for disadvantaged students.
- Identify high schools that met a basic criterion for graduation rates (> 68% graduation rate).
- 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.