Douglas misses ‘best high schools’ list

Leaders say changing criteria bumped three from rankings

The Douglas County School District decision to extend school vouchers to some students is facing challenges from four national and local organizations. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ccnewspapers.com
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The three Douglas County schools that landed on the 2012 U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools ranking are nowhere to be found on the 2013 list, but principals say it’s not a reflection of performance or cause for alarm.

“We want to make sure our school shows up in that (ranking), so it’s definitely disappointing,” said Highlands Ranch High School Principal Jerry Goings. “But it’s definitely not a reflection of our data.”

In 2012, Highlands Ranch, Rock Canyon and Mountain Vista all were among the top 1,000 among almost 5,000 top-performing schools nationwide. Rock Canyon ranked 296th, Highlands Ranch 523rd and Mountain Vista 621st.

Those schools didn’t make the 2013 national list, and also weren’t ranked on U.S. News’ state-by-state breakdown of best schools.

Rock Canyon Principal Andy Abner believes the vital statistic relates to the performance of the school’s least advantaged students — minority students and those receiving free or reduced lunch. They are a relatively small percentage of the student body in an affluent, 92 percent Caucasian county, but part of U.S. News’ ranking hinges on whether their performance matches the state average.

Abner said the school works to meet the needs of students who fall into those categories.

“At the same time, it’s our smallest population of students,” he said. “I would say it’s less than 5 percent.

“In my opinion, Rock Canyon did not decline from one year to the next. Our ACT scores actually went up. Our AP (Advanced Placement) numbers went up.”

Goings said HRHS statistics are similar, with record numbers of students taking and passing AP tests, high state testing scores and other reliable indicators of high performance.

“We’ve been on both U.S. News and Newsweek’s list multiple years and multiple back-to-back years because we’ve always held strong AP scores and AP participation,” he said. “And we’ve always done well on our state testing.”

Douglas County School Board President John Carson said the district analyzed its own data.

“We went through the actual objective criteria, which was reading, math and college proficiency,” he said. “When you use those numbers, every one of our high schools would be higher than most of the schools that are on that list.

“It’s a different rating system than was used in the past, and it appears to be motivated by politics in some way — injecting race and economics into the formula.”

U.S. News said that about 40 percent of the schools on last year’s list didn’t make the 2013 list. It cites changes in relative performance on state tests, including performance of least advantaged students, and changes in performance on college-level work among possible reasons schools fell off the top ranking.

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