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Trending: Where the ‘Best High Schools’ are

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Darien’s Blue Wave surged to the top of the state’s schools, as Darien High School earned the honor of being named the No. 1 high school in the state in this year’s U.S. News list of Best High Schools.

Darien leapfrogged several other local schools as it rose from Connecticut’s No. 7 high school last year. Nationally, the school rose from No. 324 to No. 217, just barely missing the cutoff for the top 1 percent of high schools across the country, according to Robert Morse, the director of data research at U.S. News.

“There are 21,000 high schools that we rank, so the top 1 percent would be the top 210 schools,” Morse said Monday. “So basically Darien is more or less in the top 1 percent.”

The full rankings, which will be released on Tuesday, include several Southwestern Connecticut schools in the top tier: Weston High School was named the No. 3 high school in the state; Ridgefield High School was named No. 4; Wilton High School was named No. 6; Staples High School was named No. 7; Joel Barlow High School was named No. 9; and Fairfield Ludlowe High School was named No. 11.

All seven schools were within the top 500 schools across the nation, earning them the distinction of “gold medal” schools. Another 1,790 schools were awarded silver medals in the list.

While other local schools like New Canaan High School and Greenwich High School were not among the top 500 schools in the nation, they were  included in the silver medal list, released Tuesday. New Canaan High School was ranked at No. 15, while Greenwich High School was No. 21 in the state.

The list, which is compiled by U.S. News in partnership with the American Institutes for Research, evaluates student performance on state tests, as well as how effectively schools educate their minority and economically disadvantaged students. College- and career-readiness is determined using student performance on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.

In Darien, Superintendent Stephen Falcone said a total of 299 students took an AP test during the 2011-2012 school year, which is the timespan that was measured in the ranking. Of the roughly 600 tests that were taken by Darien students that school year, 95 percent of the tests came back with a passing score – a 3, 4 or 5 out of 5 – and more than 50 percent were graded at a 5.

“Back in 2008, we had under 400 tests being taken and now we have 600,” he said Monday. “And you would think that by the virtue of more students taking the test that the scoring would not be as strong, but kids work hard, the teachers work hard, and that cooperative effort has yielded great results.”

But AP tests are just part of a broader picture of what is happening inside the hallways at Darien High School, Falcone said. And while being named to the top of the list is exciting news, the superintendent said a ranking number says little about the true value of the education offered to students.

“It’s a testament to the hard work that our teachers, students and administrators put in at the high school and really across the district to make sure that students have an appropriately challenging experience, and that it’s a place where they can grow not only academically but personally,” he said. “It’s a nice recognition, but we want to take a look at ourselves and what we do well and where we need to grow every year, regardless of where we are in any type of ranking.”

When it comes to true excellence, it’s the whole child that matters, said Tammy Sload, co-president of the Darien High School Parent Association.

“There’s a commitment to excellence across all kinds of pursuits, from academic to sports and music, and because of that it gives kids a lot of different ways to find out what they’re good at and to excel,” Sload said.

It’s a similar story in some of the other schools named to the list.

“Right now, the national conversation is all about college- and career-readiness. So kids hear how important it is to be ready for being successful in college and to have a viable career. But teenagers live in the here and now – so our message is that high school is an extremely important part of your life,” said Tom McMorran, principal of Joel Barlow High School in Redding.

“Bruce Springsteen sings songs about the glory days, not about being 50. So often with the impetus about core standards and high-pressure assessments, that’s all about when you’re older and someday needing these skills. But we’re saying what’s important is right here and right now, being a part of this dynamic community,” McMorran said.

By making a concerted effort to ensure students’ needs are met by providing outlets to reach their potential socially and athletically, students are then able to focus their minds on the academic, he said.

“We’re always proud of these things, but it’s important to note that this is just one metric” said Robert O’Donnell, principal of Wilton High School. “This is not something we necessarily put the greatest weight on. We look at many different metrics to get a broad understanding of how our students are doing, but I’m proud of the high school and of our school community.”

The smaller school districts in Fairfield County are no strangers to national praise and recognition, while larger districts with more economic diversity and other hurdles that complicate student achievement are often left off. But while the majority of Connecticut schools named to the state’s top 10 are small, more-affluent and predominately white schools, Morse said the whole list includes a good number of more diverse institutions.

In total, 30 percent of the gold-medal schools had poverty rates of 25 percent and higher among their student bodies, and 67 percent of schools had enrollments with 25 percent or more of their population identifying as non-white, according to Morse.

Morse cited William H. Hall High School in West Hartford as an example of a more diverse school on the Connecticut list. The high school, in which roughly one-third of students are non-white, was named the No. 8 school in Connecticut in this year’s ranking. Other schools in Connecticut’s Top Ten include Conard High School in West Hartford at No. 2, Farmington High School in Farmington at No. 5 and the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy in East Hartford, which was No. 1 in the state last year, at No. 10.

maggie.gordon@scni.com; 203-964-2229; http://twitter.com/MagEGordon; http://facebook.com/TrendingWithMaggieGordon

Maggie Gordon

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10 Responses

  1. Involved Parent says:

    I live in Stamford..you know, the *rich* part of the state. Our two public high schools aren’t even ranked. They are diverse for sure, and we spend just as much money per student as Darien, New Canaan, or Norwalk. All these comments which blame lack of diversity, wealth inequities, or teacher pay, are total BUNK. Darien and New Canaan have one of the most involved parental bodies out there, whereas Westhill and Stamford have mediocre involvement. This, coupled with close control over teacher performance (I.e. not hampered by union rules), help schools like Darien and New Canaan rank high in the state. My kid goes to Westhill, so I know what I am talking about.

  2. Parent says:

    I still say all kids can learn equally.

  3. Dedicated Bridgeport Teacher says:

    Sigh. How is this not about race and money? I’d like to see the staffs of these schools switch places with the staffs of schools in Bridgeport, New London, Hartford, and New Haven. :)

  4. Michael says:

    These appear to be the “best” PUBLIC schools. Am I wrong? If not, the article should disclose that qualification.

  5. Juanita says:

    Jon, You are so right. There has always been a diversity issue here in southwestern ct. I they really do not want to fix the issue. CT schools are about entitled meant and I dont mean for the poor.

  6. Jon Watson says:

    For one, I was sure no school in the SPS would be on the list. Second, diversity seems to have absolutely no positive correlation with being one of the best schools, at least in CT.

  7. [...] Trending: Where The ‘Best High Schools’ Are Stamford Advocate [...]

  8. Fred Detores says:

    This High school rating is flawed and designed to build up self esteem and not a measure of academic achievement .
    They fail to state the gender deficit with boys fairing far worst than girls in the ap scores. This is due to a school curriculum that heavily favors females from kindergarden up 12 g.
    Please be aware how all public schools are rigged against boys.AAUW has been leading the charge for a few decades now and you see the results with boys measuring lower scores in every category in education.
    Please watch these videos that college professors produced to learn more about how male students are being screwed.
    ”The War against Boys”, ” Feminism And The War On Male Students”"” Boys Adrift” ” Why Girls Learn” By Michael Gurion.

  9. Brian says:

    Darien in the 1% group. Coincidence?

  10. Krunch says:

    What a surprise,the schools in the rich area of the state