Education Reform

Peter Greene to U.S. News: Ranking Schools by Test Scores is a Truly Stupid Idea

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Peter Greene points out that U.S. News used to be a news magazine, but has turned itself into a ranking agency, mainly of colleges, then high schools, and now…wait for it…elementary and middle schools! Does it get any more ridiculous than that?

Its rankings are based mainly on test scores, which are guaranteed to favor schools that are the whitest and most affluent.

 US News was once a magazine, but these days it’s arguably most famous as a Ranker of Things, especially schools. They rank colleges and high schools annually, and despite the fact that these rankings are hugely questionable (see herehere and here), they are uncritically reprinted, quoted, and used by the fortunate top tier as a marketing tool. 

So I’m sure from their perspective it makes sense to extend the brand by ranking elementary and middle schools. This is just as bad an idea as you think it is, and raises some big questions.

How do they do it?

I first guessed a system that used darts, a blindfold, and the broad side of a barn. But no–it’s worse than that.Scoring was almost entirely rooted in students’ performance on mathematics and reading/language arts state assessments.So, standardized test scores from 2018-2019. But also demographics worked in by soaking the test results in a sophisticated stew of argle-bargle fertilizer, because US News employs data strategists instead of journalists….

As many Wags on Twitter (a fine band name) observed, we can look for US News to continue to expand its brand. First obvious choice is rankings for pre-schools, but why stop there? America needs to know–where are the top-ranked playgrounds in the country? Whose mini-van back seat is producing the leaders of tomorrow? Which were the top-ranked fetuses of the year, and which uteruses are the best? Top-ranked sperm?

 
My dream is that the world greets this latest rank adventure with a massive yawn, but they won’t. People love rankings, love them so much that too many don’t even pause to ask, “Rank based on what, exactly?” Nobody anywhere is going to benefit from the sophistication of their analysis; the best we can hope for is that schools do not follow the lead of colleges and some high schools and start trying to game the system (“Sorry, Mrs. Potts, but your child is going to bring down our ranking with their test scores, so we’re booting little Pat out of kindergarten.”)


Just stop, US News. Just stop
.

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