Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Monday's News

Newsweek, for the second year in a row, has come out with a ranking of the top high schools in the United States. Brainerd High School is on the list again, this time in 620th place, compared with the dead-last 800th place that it was ranked last year.

Actually, neither the 800th place ranking nor the 620th place ranking is all that bad, especially considering how many thousands of high schools there are in the United States, and how many suburban Minneapolis/St. Paul high schools Brainerd beat to come in at 620th this year.

How does Newsweek rank the schools, you ask? Well, the formula is quite uncomplicated and certainly should make the College Board – the company that oversees the Advanced Placement® program – proud. Newsweek takes the total amount of AP and/or IB (International Baccalaureate) tests given at a high school in a particular year and divides that number by the number of seniors the school graduated in the same year. In 2003, the number Newsweek got for Brainerd High School was 1.000, meaning that an average of one AP test (Brainerd High School does not have the IB program) was given for every senior at the school.

Last year, Brainerd’s number rose to 1.415, explaining why the school rose from the bottom of the list (Newsweek has set a number of 1.000 as being the minimum requirement for inclusion on the list) to 620th place.

To clarify some things, however, the ranking is based on the total number of AP and/or IB tests given to all the students at the school in the year being looked at. Besides the AP and/or IB tests taken by seniors, the ranking also takes into account the tests taken by freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. This is how it can appear as if every senior who went on to graduate took at least one AP/IB test, even though this clearly does not actually happen. In addition, the ranking only looks at the total number of AP/IB tests given, not the scores students actually receive on the tests. So, a high school with 100 graduating seniors that gave a total of 500 AP tests would end up with a very nice ranking on the list, even with everybody receiving scores of 1s on the tests. This is one of the most serious limitations of this ranking system, in my opinion.

I have two links you can check out to find more about the rankings. Click here and scroll down to ranking 620 to see Brainerd High School on the list, and click here to see the feature Newsweek article that accompanies the 2004 survey.

In any case, I guess the school so asininely stated as being "here in the conservative corn field of complete stupidity" seems to be doing all right.

While I’m on the topic of education, there was a highly interesting article in the USA Today on Monday regarding the nation’s high school system. I agree, for the most part, about the primary assertion – it is easy to not work very hard and still get more than acceptable grades in many mainstream courses.

Anyway, here’s the article:

Survey: High school fails to engage students
By Alvin P. Sanoff, special for USA TODAY
A majority of high school students in the USA spend three hours or less a week preparing for classes yet still manage to get good grades, according to a study being released today by researchers who surveyed more than 90,000 high school students in 26 states.

The team at Indiana University in Bloomington calls the findings "troubling." The first large study to explore how engaged high school students are in their work, it adds to a growing body of evidence that many students are not challenged in the classroom.

Just 56% of students surveyed said they put a great deal of effort into schoolwork; only 43% said they work harder than they expected to. The study says 55% of students devote no more than three hours a week to class preparation, but 65% of these report getting A's or B's.

Students on the college track devoted the most time to preparation, but only 37% spent seven or more hours a week on schoolwork, compared with 22% of all high school students. Among seniors, just 11% of those on the college track said they spent seven or more hours a week on assigned reading, compared with 7% of all seniors.

Surprisingly, 18% of college-track seniors did not take a math course during their last year in high school. That could help explain why studies show that 22% of college students require remediation in math.

The Indiana study also found that 82% of students said they planned to enroll in some form of post-secondary education, and most said they expected to earn at least a bachelor's degree. But the study says "a substantial gap exists" between what students do in high school and what they will be expected to do in college.

Martha McCarthy, a senior professor at Indiana University who directs the research project, says the results should serve as "a wake-up call. There is a need for students to work harder and do more rigorous coursework" if they are going to be ready for college. Research has found that one-quarter of students in four-year colleges require substantial remedial work.

The new study is part of a long-term project called the High School Survey of Student Engagement, a companion project since 2004 to the National Survey of Student Engagement, which has been administered to 900,000 students at four-year colleges since 2000. Both projects are supported primarily by schools interested in learning about the attitudes and experiences of their students.

McCarthy says many high schools have been surprised to find how little time students spend on homework and have instituted changes, such as brief quizzes based on homework assignments.

The study found that as students advance through high school, they are less likely to feel challenged to do their best work. Researchers also found that a higher proportion of students are likely to spend four or more hours a week doing personal reading online than doing assigned reading for their classes.

McCarthy says students' positive attitudes toward school were highly correlated with coming to class prepared, participating in discussions and getting prompt feedback from teachers. But 56% of students said they never or only sometimes get prompt feedback.

The results probably will provide momentum to a growing effort to reform high schools. In February, a survey of recent graduates found that whether they went on to college or entered the workforce, about 40% said they were not adequately prepared in school. That study was done in conjunction with the first National Education Summit, an event aimed at rallying governors around high school reform. A number of governors have pledged to make high school reform a priority.

And here's a data table that goes along with this article:
Not challenging enough?
Time high school students spend preparing for class:
Hours per week percentage of respondents, by instructional track
General Special ed College Vocational All
0 hours 11 26 4 18 10
1-3 hours 50 46 33 53 45
4-6 hours 23 14 27 19 24
7-10 hours 10 6 18 7 12
11-14 hours 3 3 9 2 5
15+ hours 3 5 10 2 5
Source: High School Survey of Student Engagement

I found the article here


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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001