Staff Editorial: Breaking Rank

Our Position: High school rankings are a pointless exercise, as it is impossible to evaluate a high school purely on test scores, college attendance rate and graduation rate. The perfect high school education is subject to change depending on the student, the school and what the student needs for growth.

Recently, LT published its testing results for assessments such as the ACT, SAT and AP tests; and by all standards, LT was above average. ACT scores were higher than ever, despite the fact that students with special situations were included in the overall score. The amount of students taking and succeeding on AP tests is also rising, much to the joy of LT administrative staff. At about the same time, however, Newsweek released its annual rankings of the Top 500 high schools in America, where LT, despite current success, was not ranked. With a cursory glance, it isn’t very difficult to find out why. Top schools have 90-plus percent of their students attending college, and all of them leave high school very well prepared. However, there is something that stands out as one looks further into the rankings. The highest caliber of schools have selective enrollment. Take Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia for example, its considered the number one school in the nation due to its rigorous academics and outstanding test scores. In 2014, 129 of Thomas Jefferson’s 480 students were National Merit Semifinalists, a staggering number which represents 27 percent of the student body. Comparatively, Lyons Township had 15 accomplished National Merit Semifinalists. Although this is by no means a small number, these students only make up one percentage of our class. (Also, one must consider that the PSAT standard for National Merit in Virginia is roughly six points higher than Illinois). These great scores are an impressive feat, but much less impressive when you realize that TJHS is taking the top students from six surrounding schools. Sure, there is a shocking difference between LT and TJHS, but how does LT stack up against, say, the best high school in Illinois? Not very well, as it turns out. The best school in Illinois is considered to be Northside College Prep, the shining example of former Mayor Richard Daley’s emphasis on re-vamping the public school system. At Northside Prep, along with many other high ranking schools, the curriculum from freshman year to senior year offered is exclusively, with the exception of state mandated PE, AP or Honors. LT and many other public schools can’t even begin to think about attempting such a curriculum. Such rigor might cause problems for even the brightest of students. These previous paragraphs seemed to suggest that LT is on a much lower level than these top schools, which is true, but this is not LT’s fault. The high schools LT is being compared to have college level curriculum and selective enrollment, taking only the best students from the area. By that description, these high schools sound less and less like high schools and more like colleges. To compare such schools to LT is ridiculous, and you may as well compare LT to actual colleges like University of Virginia or Northwestern. The fact that these schools are included in the rankings proves how little thought really goes into the ranking system. While the rankings claim to be as evaluative as ever, they are just as lazy as previous years. The analysis is based exclusively on numbers, and that is where the problem lies. High school isn’t about numbers or test scores; it’s about growth and experience. High school should prepare you for life, not just college. The best high school for you changes depending on what you need to prepare for a future career. Thomas Jefferson or Northside Prep may not, and probably will not, provide the best high school experience for a mechanic, a Spanish major, or even an English major. It is impossible to rank high schools accurately, because there are a multitude of factors and tons of different variables to consider. Perhaps the biggest variable of all is who attends the high school and what they need for growth. Even then, there are thousands of schools that could be a nice match for them, and it would be near impossible to figure out which is truly the best for them. It’s a complex problem, and one that not even the students of the best high school can figure out. For many, LT might be the perfect school, but that statement is impossible to prove.