Alton High School

Mo bronze high schools don't have achievement gap; they just don't serve minority populations


Andy Rotherham and Sara Meade argue Newsweek’s best high school list is flawed because it overfocuses on high-achieving students to the detriment of the rest of the student body. Touché.

❝A successful high school should show high levels of student achievement, graduate almost all of its students and not let any demographic subgroup lag far behind.❞

Mathews counters that

❝such criteria automatically exclude virtually any school serving large numbers of poor or minority students.❞

I think he's onto something.

Rotherham seems to focus on the forest:

❝Remember that when Sara Mead and I took a look at the performance of the top 100 Challenge Index schools on their state assessments we found average black - white gaps in pass rates of 26 points in reading and 31 points in math. One school had a 61 point gap in math!❞

Lafayette High School in Rockwood School District beats that with a 67.1 point differential between white and African-American students in math. Does that mean it’s a bad school? No. It means it’s a good school (great proficiency numbers!) with a challenge. District officials obviously need to address a real need, and they are.

A high school like Alton made the U.S. News and World Report bronze star list with only 37% proficiency in math and 33.9% in reading. Sure their discrepancy numbers are only 3.5 in math and 9.8 in reading, but with only 7 African-American students in the high school (1.8%) and such low overall proficiency numbers, is it really a best school? It does have a high percentage of free/reduced lunch students, Missouri does have a tough test, and the school should be commended for the job it is doing, but that doesn't mean I would send my kids there. Maybe I would—I don't know because these numbers just don't provide enough information. (The number of AP courses offered is more relevant for me as a parent.)

While policy wonks and politicians debate the achievement gap, parents want their kids to go to the best high schools for their kids, which is the purpose of the rankings. The St. Louis Black Leadership Roundtable, a group working with the St. Louis area school districts to decrease the achievement gap, found that the best schools for African-American students were not the ones with the lowest achievement gaps.

❝A telling conclusion of the report was that schools with the highest achievement levels among black students - such as Clayton, Webster Groves and Kirkwood - often also had the greatest gap in achievement levels between whites and blacks.❞ (BLR 2005 Education Report Card, link to actual report card not operable)

Clayton has a reputation as one of the top public high schools in Missouri and has high (for Missouri) proficiency numbers (70.2 math, 63.8 reading) and relatively high numbers for black students (37.3 math, 22 reading). Again, wide discrepancy numbers (43.9 math, 55.7 reading). The district and others like it should be praised for choosing to continue in the voluntary transfer program instead of kept off of best high schools lists at the same time encouraged to improve black students' achievement. I prefer to focus on improving a subgroup's achievement over focusing on the achievement gap since lowering overall achievement decreases the gap.

The U.S. News & World Report eliminated any school in Missouri with an ethnic population (except Metro and Lincoln College Prep, which are selective). That is not the way to encourage student achievement for all.

(Mo. high school numbers from the Mo. DESE School Data and Statistics Database)