Inaccurate data reduced ranking from No. 3 to No. 30 in the past two year
By Curt Peterson
U. S. News and World Report magazine is well-known for its annual ratings of colleges and high schools. Windsor Central Unified Union School District (WCSU) enjoyed Woodstock Union’s 2020 No. 3 ranking among 56 Vermont schools as an enticement to young families hoping to move to Vermont following the Covid pandemic.
But the WCSU administration was dismayed on April 26 when the high school fell to No. 30 in the 2022 ranking.
According to the magazine’s website, Covid caused a testing gap in 2019 and 2020, and they “relied on historic data from three prior years” when formulating the 2022 ratings. Translation: Some of the data is five years old.
Principal Garon Smail waded into the data, and discovered what he considers significant flaws.
He found that 30% of the ratings depend on Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered and taken at a school. Smail told the Mountain Times that inaccurate AP data used by U.S. News largely affected the school’s rating.
Smail contacted Robert Morse, data manager at U.S. News, and asked about the AP numbers.
“U.S. News confirms that the [AP] data is missing. Their explanation … the College Board didn’t send the data,” Smail wrote in an email. “I spoke to the College Board … their response, we never share that data.”
From where did the data come then? No one knew.
“Another major factor is our graduation rate,” WCSU superintendent Sherry Sousa said. “They used 82% when our actual graduation rate among seniors is in the high 90s. They track student numbers from ninth grade to graduation, and don’t adjust for transfers to private or other schools during those years — quite a few in our district.”
At the college level, the Washington Post (Valerie Strauss, September 2018) said “there are estimates that up to one-third of students transfer at some point,” but U.S. News raters “don’t consider transfer students” when calculating graduation rates. Under the “College Readiness” category, U.S. News indicated data is “N/A,” not available.
Smail was surprised that Morse “responded immediately to a tiny school in Central Vermont” when he questioned Woodstock Union’s rating.
“He promised to look into the data and get back to us about an adjustment,” Smail said.
As of Tuesday, May 3, he had not heard back. The Mountain Times also contacted Robert Morse directly via email, and he responded stating: “U.S. News receives AP data directly from the College Board. This year, Woodstock Union High School was not included in that data, and therefore U.S. News was not able to include AP data in the school’s score for Best High Schools. U.S. News did not promise to revisit the ranking.”
Other area high schools, Windsor High and Hartford High, were ranked 38 and 26, respectively in the 2022 report.
Dr. David Baker, Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union superintendent, told the Mountain Times, “I pay no attention to the [U.S. News] rankings. I find them insignificant and hope parents would not put much weight on them.”
Hartford schools superintendent Tom Deblasi did not response in time for publication.
There is little information available regarding U.S. News high school ratings, but the Washington Post has long questioned the quality of the magazine’s popular college ratings.
Washington Post’s Strauss wrote, “… the success of a data-based ranking is, obviously, the quality of the data. If you put junk in, you get junk out … And that’s pretty much what you get with most rankings of schools.”