Amity’s Ranks on State Assessments Went Up… Yet Why Did Its Ranking on U.S. News Drop?
Amity High School’s drop in the 2023 U.S. News ranking is puzzling, especially after the strong improvement in ranks on state-wide assessment tests last year. At the last BOE meeting, some parents raised concerns about the ranking drop. As a BOE member and Woodbridge parent myself, I delved into the data, to understand and diagnose the issues, so that the board and school can take any necessary remedial actions.
Amity's Impressive State Assessment Rankings in 2021-22
Despite the educational challenges posed by the COVID pandemic, Amity had maintained stable scores in 2021-22 compared to the pre-COVID scores in 2018-19. Hence, I ﬁrst looked at Amity’s performance, relative to other schools. There is good news here. Amity’s rank among CT schools improved substantially in all three subjects:
- Math: Improved from 28th to 9th;
- English and Language Arts (ELA): Improved from 27th to 11th;
- Science: Improved from 28th to 17th.
The rise in ranks is a testament to the resilience and hard work of our students, teachers, and administrators, who persevered through the pandemic without falling behind in academics.
But if Amity’s ranks on state assessments went up, why did U.S. News rank drop?
The Discrepancy with U.S. News Rankings: Older Data and COVID-disrupted AP test rates
Since Connecticut didn’t publish state assessment data for 2020-21 (due to COVID disruptions), U.S. News used older 2018-19 data-data that was also used for last year’s ranking. Thus, this 40% component of the ranking, did not reﬂect Amity’s recent performance improvements. The good news is that the impressive 2021-22 performance will help Amity’s ranking next year.
The other major 40% component of the ranking is Ged to Advanced Placement (AP) test taking and scores, which U.S. News considers as a proxy for college readiness. For this year, U.S. News used data from the COVID-disrupted 2020-21 year, where Amity had a historic low AP test taking rate of 42%, and this COVID-related drop was sharper than at peer schools. As the graph shows, these numbers are recovering and should have less impact on Amity’s future rankings.
(See top graph.)
Assessing Amity Priorities
The recent student performance in state assessments shows that on average our students are performing among the very best. And there are other strong signs of excellence during the last year. Our students continue to do us proud by winning various national and state-level competitions. In particular, a record 27 students out of a class of 315 (8.6%) achieved “Commended Scholar/Semi-Finalist” status at the National Merit Scholar competition last year. This is about three times higher than the national average of 3% who achieve this status. Overall, Amity’s academic performance is on the rise, not on the decline.
I see one persistent challenge for Amity. As the graph suggests, a signiﬁcant share of Amity students taking AP classes choose not to take the exams. The exams cost $98-$148, and as colleges increasingly do not give college credit for AP exams, many Amity students ﬁnd these exams not worth their stress or money. Some districts pay for their students’ exams. There are some who require or “expect” students to take the exams. Since Amity “encourages,” but does not require students to take the exams, it has been a drag on our US News rank in recent years.
But it is not clear how Amity should address this challenge. A school should prepare students for college by encouraging them to learn advanced material. Taking AP courses and doing well on them does that, but taking expensive AP exams that students don’t see value in does not. While Amity can encourage students to voluntarily take AP tests to improve their chances of admission to a preferred college, it would be misguided to push them to take AP exams just to boost Amity’s ranking.
Magazine rankings, especially when based on outdated data or questionable metrics such as AP test taking, don’t deﬁne our excellence. The state assessment ranks show that Amity students on average performed very well in academics last year. Their AP course participation continues to rise after the steep drop caused by COVID. The National Merit Scholarship performance shows that our top students also do exceptionally well. Overall, this suggests that Amity is pursuing excellence in an inclusive way-at the top, and across the board.
Given the evidence, I concluded that any narrative that Amity is underperforming or declining on academic performance is inconsistent with the facts. Such narratives demonstrate our hardworking students and educators. And by hurting the school’s reputation, it harms our community’s attractiveness. I hope my analysis reassures concerned parents and the broader community that Amity’s U.S. News rank this year is an idiosyncratic blip and does not reﬂect either current student performance or a systematic decline. The evidence instead suggests improving performance.
And if one simply wants to see good news in a recent ranking, here is one. In 2023, Niche ranked the Amity School District as #10 in the state with an overall A+ and speciﬁcally an A+ for College Preparation.
Let’s applaud Amity’s achievements, even as we strive for continuous improvement. Amity’s mission should be clear: to remain a hub of excellence that allows every student in our community to achieve their potential. Let the rankings follow the excellence.