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January 28, 2015

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U.S. News ‘looking into’ reports of erroneous data in Best High Schools rankings


Leila Navidi

Green Valley High School Principal Jeff Horn, shown in this 2009 photo, has raised questions about the data cited by U.S. News & World Report in ranking GVHS as No. 13 on the publication’s Best High Schools report.

High school ranking under question

KSNV coverage of a Green Valley High School ranking that raised questions, May 8, 2012.

Map of Green Valley High School

Green Valley High School

460 Arroyo Grande, Henderson

U.S. News and World Report is looking into a local high school’s ranking as the nation’s 13th-best public high school after its principal questioned the data used by the national magazine.

U.S. News’ Best High Schools rankings were released Tuesday, with Green Valley High School in Henderson earning a lofty ranking among the nation’s top high schools.

But even before the school could celebrate, Green Valley Principal Jeff Horn questioned the validity of U.S. News’ list of best schools, pointing to several incorrect data points that are key criteria in the methodology used in determining the rankings.

The U.S. News rankings showed that the Henderson school had 477 students and 111 teachers, making its student-teacher ratio 4-to-1. The school also had a 100 percent passing rate on the Advanced Placement exam, according to the rankings.

Green Valley actually has 2,850 students, a student-teacher ratio closer to 24-to-1 and a 64 percent AP passing rate, Horn said. He added that he believed the data for several other Las Vegas high schools were incorrect in the U.S. News rankings.

Furthermore, U.S. News’ state profile of Nevada had several incorrect data points.

U.S. News erroneously reported that there are only 5,864 teachers and 123,697 students in the entire state. The Clark County School District, which is one of 17 districts in the state, has more than three times the number of teachers and more than double the number of students reported by U.S. News.

“To know that a major publication like U.S. News had fact checkers not doing their jobs is disappointing,” Horn said, adding that he remained proud of his school.

U.S. News Director of Data Research Robert Morse said Tuesday morning the publication was investigating the issue.

“We’re looking into it,” said Morse, who sounded agitated. “We’re looking into the discrepancy of what the school says and what the federal government has on its (web)site.”

In a blog entry posted later in the day, Morse outlined U.S. News’ data sources used to determine the school rankings.

The student enrollment figures were pulled from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data, a federal database used by journalists, scholars and educators across the country.

Schools report their student demographics and performance statistics to the state, which in turn reports that data to the NCES, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Education.

U.S. News obtained the 2009-10 school-level data for nearly 22,000 high schools from the NCES website to calculate its rankings, Morse said.

U.S. News also analyzed the school-level data to come up with a state-by-state profile, he said. That could explain why Nevada’s profile is also inaccurate on the U.S. News website.

“This data is used by the federal government,” Morse said. “We did not reverify the data.”

Inaccurate information about Nevada’s public high schools places suspicion on other schools ranked by U.S. News.

The fact that the top 26 high schools in the rankings all show a 100 percent passing rate on the AP exam is a red flag, especially for high schools with more than 1,000 students. That means that every senior who took the AP exams during the 2009-10 school year at each of the 26 schools — including Green Valley — received at least a 3 out of a possible 5 on the college-level exam.

The Sun contacted education data analysts at the local, state and federal levels to determine where and how the erroneous data points for Green Valley occurred.

Horn denied forwarding faulty information to the Clark County School District.

Sue Daellenbach — the School District’s director of assessment, accountability, research and school improvement — said the bad information “didn’t come from us,” adding that the district does not send any student data directly to the federal government.

Carol Crothers — the state education department’s director of assessment, program accountability and curriculum — said it seems there was a “disconnect” that occurred somewhere along the data chain. She added that she was looking into the situation.

Marilyn Seastrom — the chief statistician and program director with the federal NCES — said she, too, would look into the matter, adding that she would investigate how long the inaccurate information was listed on its website.

This has happened before. An erroneous ranking also plagued U.S. News’ inaugural Best High Schools ranking.

In 2007, Standard & Poor’s — which calculated the rankings on behalf of U.S. News — made a mistake and named Vermont’s Montpelier High School the nation’s fifth-best public high school.

After the mistake was found, U.S. News apologized to the school. At the time, the magazine’s editor, Brian Kelly, told the Associated Press that U.S. News felt terrible for having gotten the rankings wrong.

“We’re in the business of getting these numbers right,” Kelly told the AP in December 2007. “It’s particularly embarrassing that we’re in the business of judging people based on their math scores and we got our math wrong.”

Regardless of who made the mistake in the case of Green Valley, School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said she welcomed the attention.

“It’s unfortunate that an error was made, but we know Green Valley is an extraordinary school,” she said. “We don’t need a ranking to tell us that.”

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  1. Please stay on this story. I am curious what the source of erroneous data was and whether it is part of something much, much bigger.

  2. This is interesting in a few ways.

    The U.S. News used information from the Fed's web site yet our local district states "that the district does not send any student data directly to the federal government."

    So where does the Fed's get their data on our local schools if it does not come from our school district?

  3. @vegaslee:

    Thanks for your comment. As the story states: Schools report their data to the district, the district reports its data to the state and the state reports its data to the federal government. Hope that clarifies things.