03/01/10 — Three schools named to magazine's list

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Three schools named to magazine's list

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 1, 2010 1:46 PM

Three county schools have made it to U.S. News and World Report's list of "America's Best High Schools."

Based primarily upon academic and enrollment data, more than 21,000 public high schools across the country were categorized into gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention distinctions.

Three steps were used to determine rankings -- students performing better than statistically expected for the average student in the state and reading and math results on the state's high school test, then factoring in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students performing better than statistical expectations.

College readiness index scores helped determine the top 100 schools nationwide, which received gold awards. Silver awards went to 461 high schools, with bronze medals going to 1,189 high schools.

Eastern Wayne High School was one of 11 public high schools in the state to receive a silver medal ranking, while Wayne Early/Middle College High School and Goldsboro High School were among 31 in the state to earn bronze medals.

Historically, Eastern Wayne has been a leader in the county for having high SAT scores, while Wayne Early/Middle College High School has boasted 100 percent graduation rates since being introduced three years ago.

By contrast, three years ago Goldsboro High was threatened with closure by Judge Howard Manning, with the state stepping in to provide resources to assist the low-performing school.

So how did Goldsboro High beat out other county schools to make the list?

A three-step process was used to determine the best high schools, explained Bob Morse, director of data research for US News.

The first two steps ensured that the schools serve all students well, using state proficiency standards as the benchmarks.

For schools that made it past those two steps, the third step assessed the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work.

"The first level is to compare schools within the state," he said. "You have to be in the top one-eighth of the high schools in North Carolina. That's not measuring their absolute performance on the state tests, it's measuring schools' relative performance.

"If you have a large number of minorities, they have to be doing better than other schools of that kind in their state. Of course, that may not mean that they're performing that well."

To clarify, Morse said that schools might not be performing well on statewide tests, especially given the number of minorities and children in poverty attending the schools.

"There's a difference bet-ween relative and absolute," he said. "In essence, our system within the state of North Carolina -- to win a bronze, you're only competing against high schools in North Carolina. You're not competing against other schools outside the state."

The bronze classification, Morse explained, does not factor such things as college readiness or elements such as dropouts.

In fact, he noted, it's possible for schools to get a bronze distinction for having a very small percentage of students going on to college.

"It's true that graduation rates do not play a part in our analysis," he said. "One reason is that they're standard. There's no national standards for graduation rates or the dropout rates."

Data is obtained from a government Web site, Morse said, and includes demographic information based on enrollment, ethnicity and poverty. State test results are also obtained from the state or the county.

Essentially, the comparison was done between similar areas, i.e. how the school's least-advantaged students (black, Hispanic and low-income) were performing when stacked against similar students in the state.

"We're saying that on a relative basis that particular school, in this case Goldsboro High School, after taking into account its percent of poverty and minority students, it's doing better than schools with similar proportions," Morse said. "That's different than saying there are schools in the county that have no minority or reduced lunch that are vastly outperforming the other schools. That may be true ... but doing better than the average for schools in the state that have similar populations.

"People may think our analysis is faulty but that's different than saying it's a top-performing school in the state. If people are saying that the top-performing schools have to be -- and I'm just pulling a number -- in the top one-fifth of the state test results, that's different because that's absolute performance."