Data suspicious on list of best high schools

By Marsha Sutton

Senior Education Writer

Self-reported data may be responsible for the disparity in rankings between Torrey Pines High School and Canyon Crest Academy on Newsweek’s latest annual list of Best High Schools, San Dieguito Union High School District officials say.

The list continues to draw criticism, even though the publication says it revamped its methodology and no longer considers only the number of Advanced Placement exams and the number of graduating seniors at each school.

Now there are six components: graduation rate (worth 25 percent), college matriculation rate (25 percent), AP tests taken per graduate (25 percent), average SAT/ACT scores (10 percent), average AP/IB/AICE scores (10 percent), and AP courses offered (5 percent).

This formula calculated that Torrey Pines was rated #90 on the June 2011 list, and Canyon Crest #306.

The list reported other information for each school, including:

• student-teacher ratio (26:1 for TPHS; 38:1 for CCA)

• percent college-bound (92 percent for TPHS; 70 percent for CCA)

• graduation rate (95 percent for TPHS; 100 percent for CCA)

• AP tests per senior (4.1 for TPHS; 3.2 for CCA)

• average SAT score (1834 for TPHS; 1800 for CCA)

SDUHSD administrators say the list, despite the new methodology, is skewed to favor small schools, charter schools and magnet schools – and not larger, comprehensive high schools. They discount the rankings, saying they do not tell the full story and are often based on suspect data.

Nevertheless, the difference between the two schools in ranking was significant and was noticeable in several areas, particularly the student-teacher ratio and the college-bound – two factors that Brian Kohn, principal of Canyon Crest, said were self-reported.

The ratio of 38 students per teacher reported at Canyon Crest is closest to accurate districtwide, said Rick Schmitt, SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of educational services. Equity in staffing at all schools in the district would not allow one school to have a significantly lower student-teacher ratio than another, he said.

And the percent of college-bound students is impossible to determine, Kohn said, because schools don’t track how many students move on to college after graduation. “There’s no way to know this,” he said.