This article is a sidebar to this week's feature, "These Kids Go to the Best Public High School in Houston"
The methodology employed by Children at Risk to assess the schools began with a series of informal interviews with Houston-area superintendents, researchers and educators on ways to determine the top-performing local public high schools. The Texas Education Agency proved a useful source for some school information. The Manhattan Institute was consulted for its formula to measure dropout rates.
Several diverse variables were used to evaluate schools. Weights were assigned to graduation rates; SAT and Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test scores; average class size and teacher experience; percentage of students who met or exceeded criteria for advanced-placement courses; percentage of students who completed the Texas Recommended High School Plan; innovation; and socioeconomic scale, based on enrollment in Title I programs.
The heaviest weight within the survey was reserved for graduation rates, which are always tricky, given the comings and goings of students.
This graduation-rate assessment began by taking the number of students in a school's 2001 freshman class and comparing that to the number of students who graduated in 2004. But an adjustment was made after factoring in the growth rate at that school. The growth rate was determined by looking at the numbers in a school's freshman class in each of the next three years. Some suburban schools are experiencing exponential growth, so that a 2001 freshman class of 1,000 students might result in a 2004 graduating class of 2,000 students. This wouldn't mean that everyone from the initial class had made it through, rather that the school's population as a whole had exploded.
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It was then determined how many 2001 freshmen graduated at that school. Compared to the state's graduation rate, this is a more stringent measure of how individual high schools performed in the retention of freshmen through graduation.
Percent weight given to each category*:
TAKS Reading Code 2.5 percent
TAKS Math Code 2.5 percent
TAKS Science Code 2.5 percent
TAKS Social Studies Code 2.5 percent
SAT Code 10 percent
Class Size Code 5 percent
Socioeconomic Status Code 18 percent
Graduation Rate Code 27 percent
Advanced Placement Code 10 percent
Teacher Experience Code 10 percent
Texas Recommended High School Plan Code 10 percent
Innovation Code 5 percent
* Total exceeds 100 percent because the Innovation Code was assigned only to the top half of Tier I schools. This was an added consideration for ranking the top ten schools.