Unranked status shocks community

Pablo Roa

After being ranked the number one school in the state of Maryland last year, CHS did not make the 2014 rankings.

By Pablo Roa, Emily Wang, and Fiona Asbury

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To the surprise and disappointment of many students and staff members, CHS was unranked in the U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of the best high schools in the state.

For the past three years, CHS has been the number one high school in Maryland. This year, however, CHS did not make the list, with Walt Whitman High School at number one.

“I am very disappointed because we have been number one before,” Principal Joan Benz said.

According to Robert J. Morse, director of data research for US News & World Report, CHS was not ranked because it did not pass the first step of the three step high school selection process.

In order to qualify for the rankings, high schools first have to perform better than expected on state reading and mathematics assessments based on the proportion of students who are classified as economically disadvantaged. Since CHS has a relatively low number of economically disadvantaged students, it needed to score very highly on state assessments.

“In other words, Churchill just barely missed passing step one,” Morse said.

Even if CHS had completed step one, it would not have made it past step two; high schools had to have performed better than the state average for their least advantaged students. CHS had an 11.4 percent gap in the difference between the disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students who received proficient or higher on state exams.

U.S. News and World Report rankings are [accurate],” Benz said. “However, when they say top school in the country, they mean for all students.”

According to Benz, economically disadvantaged CHS students do not perform as well as the rest of the school on state exams, thus creating an achievement gap. However, she assures CHS will continue to work on decreasing the gap.

Other Montgomery County schools that were not ranked this year were B-CC, previously ranked sixth, and WJ, unranked for the second year in a row, both for the same reason CHS was not ranked.

Despite CHS’ absence from the rankings, statistics show that it is still one of the top schools in Maryland. If CHS qualified for the rankings and was ranked based on the statistics used by the U.S. News and World Report, the school would end up either first or second in the state.

While CHS was not ranked in the U.S. News and World Report’s ratings, the school still ranked highly on another list that it has climbed in recent years.

The Washington Post’s annual “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” rating ranked CHS as the eighth most challenging high school in the Washington D.C.-area and the 122nd most challenging in the nation.

According to the Post’s website, schools are ranked based on a “Challenge Index,” which is determined by dividing the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year by the number of seniors who graduated that year. While there are several different ways to rank high schools, according to Washington Post writer and rankings creator Jay Matthews, the ratings provide a more holistic approach to evaluating schools.

“I think it is the most vital measure of a high school that can be done nationally, since the AP, IB and AICE programs are available to all schools,” Matthews said. “Previously, schools have been rated by test scores, usually the SAT, but that is much more a measure of the average incomes of the school’s parents than the quality of the teaching at the school.”

This year’s ratings not only ranked CHS highly at the local level, but they also place it in the top 1 percent nationally, an accomplishment that Principal Joan Benz credits to the school’s hard-working students.

“Churchill students are very serious about taking challenging courses in high school,” Benz said. “Our students are amazing because they have foresight in that they are doing very well here, and that they are also preparing themselves well for college admissions.”

Despite ranking highly in the ratings and beating out schools such as B-CC, Wootton and Whitman, Benz expects CHS to continue to climb the rankings as students challenge themselves more and more each year.

“In the last few years, we have increased the numbers of AP courses and exams taken by CHS students, and that is why our students get into great schools,” Benz said. “We are always aiming to improve because we are a very competitive school.”

While attending one of the most challenging high schools in the nation may have its advantages, some CHS students believe that it can also increase the stress level at the school.

“I think the ratings show that we are challenging ourselves, and the scores we get prove it,” junior Kyle Parisi said. “But being one of the most challenging schools can be a bad thing too because it contributes to our high level of stress as students. It really makes you think whether our place on the rankings is worth it.”

According to Benz, however, stress can also be viewed in a positive light if students manage it appropriately.

“Stress is not all bad,” Benz said. “There is good stress, and there is bad stress. Stress is what motivates us to improve, so we do not want to get rid of it completely. But it certainly should not reach the point where it forces students to make bad choices or lose sleep.”

Although this is not the first time CHS ranks near the top of a national high school ranking list, the Post’s ratings show how CHS students have been challenging themselves more in recent years, as the school has jumped ten places in the ranking in the last six years alone.

“Churchill is going to be a great school in any case because its families are so committed to education,” Matthews said. “I think it is even better because it is so determined, like all Montgomery County schools, to reach its average students.”