Fairfield County schools on top of another ‘Best of’ List

Another week, another “Best of” schools list.

Newsweek released its list of the top 1,000 high schools in the nation Monday, which includes 10 Fairfield County schools. If it looks familiar, it’s because there’s little difference between this list and the one released by U.S. News earlier this month. The U.S. News list featured five Fairfield County schools in the state of Connecticut’s top 10; this list has four Fairfield County schools among Connecticut’s top spots.

There are a few changes in this report as compared to the one released earlier this month (which, by the way, has already been called into question for its data techniques).

While Ridgefield took home top honors for the county on the U.S News list, it was Weston High that earned the honor this time around. Staples also leapfrogged over Ridgefield High in the newest list. Darien and Greenwich rounded out the top five high schools in the county, according to Newsweek. That’s a big bump for Greenwich when comparing its placement this time around to the U.S. News list; while Newsweek ranked it as No. 11 in the state, it came in as No. 17 in the U.S. News list, behind Wilton, New Canaan and Fairfield Ludlowe.

Much of the difference in ranking is due to differences between the two reports’ methodologies. While both reports used college-readiness indicators such as student performance on either Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests, Newsweek’s methodology focused less on how students performed as compared to other like students. In an interview earlier this month, U.S. News director of data and research Robert Morse told us researchers first determined whether each school’s students performed better than statistically expected in their state, before factoring in whether the school’s black, Hispanic and low-income students were performing better than average compared to similar peers in their states from the 2009-2010 school year.

This new report doesn’t take student demographic differences into account. Here’s how Newsweek describes its methodology:

To reach these rankings, we factored in six criteria. Three of those—the four-year graduation rate, college-acceptance rate, and number of AP and other high-level exams given per student—make up 75 percent of the overall score. Average SAT/ACT and AP/college-level test scores count for another 10 percent each, and the number of AP courses offered per student is weighted as the final 5 percent. Because most of this data isn’t centrally available, we collected it from high-school administrators directly—about 15,000 of them—and received 2,300 responses.

Those differences resulted in the minor changes in rankings between the two reports, like the fact that New Canaan and Masuk high schools were completely absent from Newsweek after being added to the list in U.S. News, while Fairfield Warde suddenly showed up after having been absent before.

But with multiple reports using different methodologies to compare schools, it begs the question: Do these rankings mean anything at all? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Maggie Gordon