US News and World Report just released their annual ranking of top schools. STEM School Highlands Ranch is the highest-ranked school in DCSD and 10th in Colorado. So what does this mean and how did we score so high out of 497 Colorado High Schools?
Years ago, the STEM Board of Directors asked why STEM doesn’t focus on climbing the rankings. My response then and now is that STEM can maximize any metric, but that corrupts the essence of measuring a q
The top-scoring school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, skims the highest performing students from multiple counties in the Virginia and DC area. The teen of a family friend was denied entrance despite being a top performer and she went on to a distinguished performance at Yale after attending her neighborhood High School. Cherry-picking the very best out of a high-powered community predicts the outcome. Where’s the challenge?
STEM School Highlands Ranch takes pride in welcoming ALL students. Profoundly-gifted work next to students with learning challenges. The social-emotional needs of profoundly gifted students might be tempered with a mix of abilities at STEM all working to their personal capacity.
Many schools incentivize or require specific alignment to score higher. For example, one of the ways schools are measured for the US News and World Report is the number of AP tests and how many scored a 3 or above. One of the top-ranking schools provides teachers with incentive pay for higher AP scores. They have increasing cash rewards for each student who scores a three or above. Fives receive the most reward.
If the STEM Board said to me that my #1 goal is to be the top-ranked school in Colorado, I would immediately maximize our ability to score in the areas measured. Because Concurrent Enrollment courses are not counted, STEM would no longer offer these in favor of AP. Right now, students planning to attend college in Colorado take CE courses which are guaranteed to transfer to any Colorado public college. If the student plans to attend college out of state, they typically prefer AP which is more recognizable and readily transfers for credit depending on the institution.
Lucky for all of us, the STEM board does not chase rankings. STEM challenges our students to take a risk and sign up for stretch classes. STEM does not have any gatekeeping to AP or honors courses. CE sets gatekeeping based on big data across Colorado that predicts success for certain college courses. A student with low academic confidence is better off taking an AP class and scoring a 1-out-of-5 than not taking the class at all. By experiencing the rigor of college, the student can better prepare for academic expectations when they are making decisions with a financial impact for enrollment.
STEM is the top school in DCSD and the 10th in Colorado in a natural, free-range way. STEM attracts talented and creative students with a need to be guided by inspired teachers with a great passion for their chosen field of study. Our students crave meaningful PBLs and motivating teachers. Our faculty go the distance in partnership with ambitious students.
This is how STEM continues to be a top-scoring school. It is not manipulated or contrived. It is how the ranking system is meant to work – naming the schools that rise with a student-focused program that welcomes all students without gatekeeping for only the chosen few.
Congratulations to the entire school for this honor.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
P.J. Eucker PhD