Everybody loves rankings. Particularly in Alabama. If you want to get attention, create a ranking.
And so it goes with the Niche rankings.
Niche has accumulated a treasure trove of data and has put it all together in various ways for our consumption.
Niche makes a good bit of noise with their system of ranking schools and districts across the country.
The tendency is to jump in and look at who is Number One, and move to the next ranking.
The short view is fine if you like the drive-by approach, but to be fair about Niche’s rankings, you must look at how many Number Ones there are in Alabama, as they have been calculated for many different areas.
After reading through the various Number One categories (depicted and linked below), I call your attention to the one category I propose is more important than the others.
Best School Districts
Largest School Districts
Safest School Districts
Most Diverse School Districts
The Best Outcome Measure
Here’s what it means if you ranked high on Best Outcomes:
A high ranking indicates that the district has diverse, high-achieving students that are enrolled in advanced classes, perform well on standardized tests, and are well prepared for college and careers.
NOTE: The information below is taken directly from the Niche web site, presented in this format to make it easier to access quickly.
The image depicts the variables for the Number One District for Best Outcomes in Alabama.
Top Colleges ScoreAverage score of colleges that students are most interested in or go on to attend, based on Niche Best Overall college rankings.
Parent/Student Surveys on Educational OutcomesParent and student opinions about the educational outcomes of the district they currently or recently attend(ed). Minimum 9 unique respondents required at each district.
Composite SAT/ACT ScoreAverage SAT/ACT composite score (normalized to the same scale), as reported by students.
Student Culture & Diversity GradeNiche Student Culture & Diversity grade, which incorporates statistics and student, alumni, and parent surveys regarding culture and diversity in the district.
AP Test Pass RatePercentage of AP students who pass at least one AP exam.
Graduation RatePercentage of 12th grade students who graduate.
AP EnrollmentPercentage of students enrolled in at least one AP course.
Here is the full explanation of what those variables are. It is important to note that the data was from the 2011-2012 school year, the “most recent available”.
1. Vestavia Hills City Schools
2. Homewood City Schools
3. Hoover City Schools
4. Hartselle City Schools
5.Cullman City Schools
6.Muscle Shoals City Schools
7. Trussville City Schools
8. Shelby County Schools
9. Huntsville City Schools
10. Enterprise City Schools
11. Oxford City Schools
12. Jasper City Schools
13. Madison County Schools
14. Opelika City Schools
15. Jackson County Schools
16. Tuscaloosa County Schools
17. Lee County Schools
18. Jefferson County Schools
19. Dothan City Schools
20. Scottsboro City Schools
Note one glaring omission: Mountain Brook City Schools in Birmingham, Alabama. With nearly 100% of their students attending college and their students’ ACT composite at 27.3 (all statistics are shown here), one would think they would show up in this Best Outcomes ranking somewhere.
Points to Note
Y’all know I love data. This is really a very impressive compilation of data, presented in a user-friendly way.
Niche has done a great job offering the various parameters and areas for which they compile ranks.
But there are so many other important parameters that they haven’t captured, including:
- Are students with disabilities prepared for life, college, and career?
- Are AP exams really necessary for students to have good outcomes?
- Are students in the minority at any given school performing at the same rate that students in the majority are?
- Where is the transiency rate taken into account?
- How many students leave the school for private school?
- How many students leave the school for homeschooling?
The list, of course, could go on and on.
And requiring a minimum of nine respondents to surveys (that count for various percentages depending upon the measure) is a rather low bar.
The Bottom Line
There are no perfect measures. Niche has done a great job with this effort.
The risk with these types of rankings is that parents with young children entering school for the first time will seek to check off the list of things they think they want for their children, only to find those things aren’t what their children actually need.
When parameters like these are created, an expectation is created along with that parameter…that the thing that is being measured is somehow more important than other things.
Parents and families look for and need various programs and offerings for their children.
Your child’s unique needs can’t be summed up in a series of numbers and tied up in a neat little package.
Be careful when you read these types of rankings. They aren’t the End All, Be All to defining a school or a district.
Rather, I see these rankings as a place to start a discussion.
Thinking About Rankings
I’ve written a bit about ranking and measurements in the recent past. Here are a few you might find interesting.