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Washington County High School was recently awarded a bronze medal by U.S. News and World Report.
That means that according to the data the publication used, Washington County High School is in the top 22 percent of nearly 22,000 high schools analyzed across the country. Nebraska was the only state without sufficient data to be analyzed, according to the report.
“I think it’s a credit to my faculty, the teachers who, since I’ve become principal, (together) we have raised expectations in the classroom,” Paul Terrell, principal at WCHS, said. “It’s much more rigorous. I think students have responded to that increase in rigor.”
According to the publication, a three-step process was used to determine how and if a school ranked.
“The first step determined whether each school’s students were performing better than statistically expected for the average student in the state,” according to the report.
Reading and math scores from state proficiency tests were considered, as well as the percentage of economically-disadvantaged students enrolled at the school.
If schools made it past the first step, the second step focused on a sub-population of the school.
“The second step determined whether the school’s least-advantaged students (black, Hispanic, and low-income) were performing better than average for similar students in the state,” according to the report. “We compared each school’s math and reading proficiency rates for disadvantaged students with the statewide results for these student groups and then selected schools that were performing better than this state average.”
The third step looked closely at college-readiness performance. According to the report, the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) tests were used as benchmarks.
“This third step measured which schools produced the best college-level achievement for the highest percentages of their students,” according to the report.
The “college readiness index” was based on a school’s participation rate in AP or IB and how well students did on those tests.
Washington County High School had a 15.3 on the College Readiness Index. A minimum of 16.3 is needed to qualify for a silver or gold medal.
The high school had a low student-to-teacher ratio compared to schools in adjoining counties. According to the report, the school has 18 students to one teacher.
Other nearby schools have ratios as high as 21 students to one teacher.
“I think that’s the commitment of the board to, at a time when budgets are tough, Mr. Terrell and I have discussed on a regular basis that we haven’t cut staff here,” Washington County Schools Superintendent Robin Cochran said last week. “We’ve actually added staff in order to run the programs that we felt we needed for the kids to be college and career ready.”
Three positions were eliminated from the district at the last school board meeting. Two of the positions were funded by grants that won’t be renewed. The other position was funded by money in the general fund.
Both Cochran and Terrell pointed to higher attendance at the high school recently, as well.
“If kids want to be at school, they’re going to learn,” Terrell said. “We have a great group of students. I think a lot of that, though, is just they’re feeling that they’re accepted. They want to be here.”
Terrell and Cochran had several reasons they thought the school broke into the top ranks of high schools across the country.
Both cited parents buying in to more rigorous content. Cochran said students are taking more responsibility for what they need, or are missing.
“They’re turning to their parents or their guardians and saying, ‘I have this opportunity. I can do this or this or this, or I’m thinking about this,’” she said.
Cochran said that teachers across the district have worked hard to adapt to new teaching standards.
While happy with a bronze medal, both Terrell and Cochran said they want to go higher.
“We want the gold. We have to get the silver first, but we want to keep going,” Cochran said.
“Because we know as we go, the greatest benefactor is our students,” Terrell added.
To view the rankings online, go to www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/national-rankings.