Many families in FHSD moved here for the schools. One candidate even called FHSD a "destination district" during the recent student forum. But if FHSD's site today boasts its rank as #8 of all Missouri schools, why are we hearing about falling test scores and drops in rankings? What is the contradiction, and who is right?
The truth is that organizations base their success rankings on different criteria. Academic outcomes and test scores are significant factors in rating schools, but graduation and attendance rates are also considered. Many raters factor in college acceptance rates or college entrance exam scores. Another measure involves the performance of subpopulations compared to the outcomes of the school population as a whole. For example, how do all female students perform in math when compared to overall math performance in the district? Some raters measure cost per student. Depending on the organization, schools can receive a high rating for efficiency (low spending per student on average) or a high rating for investment (high spending per student). Finally, some systems factor in teacher experience and education. (FHSD shines there.)
So which organizations are rating FHSD? What factors are considered? And how do their rankings align with the rating the district is reporting? While we found many rating platforms, we will address four. These include Great Schools, US News and World Report, the Show Me Institute (our opponents' chosen rater), and Niche (the organization whose rank FHSD administrators feature on the district's website).
The first, Great Schools measures academic success by "how well schools serve students from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, how much students are improving within a school year, performance on state tests, and how well schools prepare students for college." Their reports are linked within widely used real estate platforms. While the Great Schools summary pages do not offer a clear or specific rating for districts, the summary for FHSD shows 83% of students performing above average. It also distinguishes Francis Howell with the College Success Award, which "recognizes schools that do an exemplary job getting students to enroll in and stick with college." Great Schools rates most Francis Howell schools 8/10 and some 9/10 on a 10-point scoring system.
US News and World Report, widely known for its college rankings, measures only schools (not districts) and uses six factors in calculating their rankings. Among these are standardized state assessment scores, graduation rates, and college entrance exam scores. Today, US News and World Report ranks Francis Howell High School itself as 11th in the state but 9th in the St Louis Metro area.
The Show Me Institute, which ranks FHSD as 52 in MO depends largely on academic scores as reported by DESE but also seems to factor in expenditures. The Show Me Institute was the only organization to measure outcomes against "expected" proficiency levels, which is based on expected proficiency for a district with the corresponding proportion of low-income students. Their criteria can be found here. The institute's methodology yields some concerning results since the three schools which hold the tie for the #1 ranking show no academic data, ACT score statistic, or 4-year graduation rate. Alongside Francis Howell, 20 other schools are also ranked 52nd. We also couldn't help but notice that the blog for the platform includes articles advocating for school choice/voucher systems and offer that this is a conflict of interest.
Niche is another of the most utilized school ranking resources, nationwide. The Niche website explains both the ranking process and the sources used for data collection, sources which include student performance on standardized exams. But Niche also states, "We go beyond academic achievement, grading schools in areas like sports, diversity, and quality of school administration." In addition, Niche collects survey data from parents and students. In 2017, FHSD reported a Niche rating of #16 in Missouri, and in 2022, Niche ranked the district #10. Today, FHSD is currently ranked by Niche as the #8 school district in Missouri.
On the heels of the pandemic, it is no secret the world has seen an overall dip in academic outcomes, but when compared with other districts, and according to trusted, independent raters, FHSD appears to be holding its own. Suggestions that our rankings have fallen or that the Show Me Institute's methods are superior to Niche simply do not hold up to scrutiny. Instead, these claims align once again with national rhetoric aimed at undermining public education. The goal of these false narratives is to sway the public in favor of defunding public education for private school support.