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Readers: Six ways to rate a high school’s quality

"The best high schools demonstrate the greatest application of knowledge," said one reader.

TIME magazine, U.S. News, and other publications have begun to release their “best” school rankings for 2012. Many of these rankings rely on two key factors in particular: standardized test scores and high school graduation rates. But are these the best criteria?

The magazines’ annual rankings of the best American high schools have been criticized for relying too heavily on data that are skewed by the abilities of students entering these institutions to begin with.

We wanted to know how our readers would like their schools to be evaluated, so we recently asked: “If you could only choose one, what’s the most important characteristic to evaluate a school’s success?”

Though a few respondents agreed that test scores still should hold the top spot, an overwhelming number of readers believe it’s what comes after high school that counts.

For example, some readers said the quality of a school should be measured by how many of its students not only attend, but graduate from, college—while others said it depends on what careers students chose later in life.

Underlying nearly all of the responses is the implication that stakeholders should be gathering a much broader range of data in order to rate a school’s effectiveness. Not only should school leaders and major research organizations take a look at how students are performing in the classroom, but also how students are performing outside of the classroom—and later on in college or the workforce.

In other words, perhaps the only true measure of a high-quality education is how well students adjust to the “real world” after graduation.

Here are some of the best responses from readers, listed in no particular order. Do you agree with these suggestions? Do you have some of your own? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section.

1. Look at the teachers.

“The highest percentage of experienced teachers (with the majority of teachers holding a master’s degree, with staff development in the age-stage development of children) who have an expectation of teaching the Social Emotional standards in the classroom along with cognitive content” should determine a school’s quality. —Louise Eggert-Nevins

2. Look at students’ careers.

Teaching and inspiring both critical and innovative thinking, and motivating students to succeed, are key. Schools should be rated on how many graduates are “entrepreneurs. These schools will be the most successful.” —Angie

3. Focus on the student-created community.

“The best high schools demonstrate the greatest application of knowledge (which is the goal of learning): the best student newspapers, concerts, drama productions, etc. Good test results should never be the goal of a high school; they should be the incidental result of a high-quality education.” —Keith Boniface, middle school principal (soon to be high school)

4. Look at college graduation rates.

A high school’s quality should be judged not only by the percentage “of students accepted into college, [but] how many graduate from college. It reveals how well high schools are preparing students for the rigors of college.” —Matt Wells, Gresham, Ore.

5. Test scores still matter.

“Schools have one function: to provide students with skills needed to find their way through a lifetime of learning. Anything less is cheating. Anything more is wasted effort. Standardized test scores measure those skills. Use those to evaluate school success and teacher success. It is all about the student … nothing more, nothing less.” —Betty Clemens

6. Focus on teacher-student relationships.

“Schools that have the most caring teachers devoted to being mentors to their students, not a ‘sage on the stage,’” are the best. “Students should have good relationships with their teachers—teachers who are caring and are interested in the individualized learning of all their students.” —Anonymous

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