Education 2011: Ranking Schools

Christopher J. Lauricella

kc kratt

Wondering which local schools are top-ranked by Business First—and how they get there?

Good question, says the head of one local school that eschews standardized testing, and is therefore not even in a race that is based on comparing test scores.

Considering state proficiency exam scores can give you a sense of the quality of a school, but not whether it is the best fit for your child, says Christopher J. Lauricella, head of the Park School in Snyder, a pre-K through Grade 12 school based on a progressive philosophy. “Trying to capture this ‘best fit’ through a ranking system is impossible.

“Many independent schools, including Park, do not give or use standardized state tests or adhere completely to state or federal curriculum benchmarks,” according to Lauricella. The ranking issue boils down to asking the wrong question, he says—choosing a school is not like buying a car.

Like other independent schools, Park is mission-driven. “The ultimate outcome for us is college preparation,” says its head. “We ask what kind of colleges are the best fit for our students? Are we creating a life path? Are we teaching them to write and to think critically?”

While students are gauged via tests, papers, and projects—as individual growth assessments—on a regular basis at Park, teaching is not so regimented that issues cannot be explored in depth. Here a student can uncover a passion and feed it over time.

“How do you quantify such intangibles in any ranking scheme?” asks Lauricella. “How do you rank technical literacy? The foundation is hollow. The very things we are basing these rankings on need to be considered: Test scores, Regents, SATs, APs. What is the validity of these tests? What about socioeconomic issues? Teacher quality? Consider GPAs—what does an A or a B mean?

“Education is an incredibly sophisticated and complex thing. It is human development, on both the student and teacher side. How do you measure that?”

For parents considering rankings as a way to choose a school, Lauricella has some advice. “Spend a little more time. Visit school websites, and visit the schools. Consider who is your child, and what are the various educational philosophies out there? Do more than just opening a paper and looking at rankings.”

The National Association of Independent Schools has strongly opposed school ranking systems. “We must keep our focus on the children’s best interests,” stated the NAIS Board of Directors in a 2007 report on the topic.

“The ‘best’ school—public, parochial, or independent—is the one that uniquely meets the needs of each particular child. … Ranking of schools encourages a destructive competitiveness, leading institutions away from offering rich alternatives and toward a stultifying sameness. It is a disservice to the schools, concerned parents, and children—and, therefore to our society.”

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