Dane County High School Rankings and ACT results

While the rankings of high schools in Madison Magazine (MM) have been out for awhile, they’ve continued to stick in my craw. That may have something to do with my involvement with the school that’s ranked 21st of 21. Top-ranked Edgewood, I’m sure, has a different take on the rankings, which it highlights on its website.
The magazine says it used average ACT scores as one of the two signifiers of academic achievement, which comprise 60% of its ranking formula. This week DPI released 2007 ACT scores for all the state’s public high schools. How do this year’s performances on the ACT by Dane County high schools compare with the MM rankings?

Here’s a listing of the 19 Dane County public schools, ranked in order by 2007 average composite score on the ACT. The number in parenthesis after the school’s name is its MM ranking. Edgewood and Abundant Life, numbers 1 and 4 in the MM rankings, are not included because, as private schools, their scores are not available on DPI’s website.
2007 Average Composite ACT Score
1. West (5) 25.7
2. Memorial (10) 25.2
3. Middleton (3) 24.5
4. McFarland (9) 24.3
5. East (21) 23.8
6. Shabazz (17) 23.6
7. Verona (8) 23.5
8. Waunakee (2) 23.3
8. Mt. Horeb (13) 23.3
10. WI Heights (11) 23.2
10. Sun Prairie (12) 23.2
12. Monona Grove (15) 23.1
13. Oregon (7) 22.8
14. DeForest (14) 22.6
15. LaFollette (20) 22.4
15. Belleville (16) 22.4
17. Stoughton (19) 22.1
18. Deerfield (6) 21.8
19. Marshall (18) 20.8
Relative performance of high schools can be skewed by demographics. High School A could have higher average ACT scores for every racial/ethnic group than high school B, but High School B could have a higher overall average as a result of a different demographic mix. There are significant demographic differences between Madison’s high schools and suburban schools. What happens when we try to control for demographic differences when comparing ACT scores?
Given the way DPI reports the data and the demographics of Dane County schools, the only way to do this is to compare the test scores of white students. So I have done so. To state what I hope is obvious, comparing the test scores of just white students is not meant to imply that the scores of white kids are any more important than the scores of kids of color. It’s just that this is the only way to make use of the available demographic data. DPI does not report ACT scores broken down by economic categories, and for some Dane County high schools, white students are effectively the only ethnic category.
Here, ranked in order, are the 2007 average composite ACT scores for white students at the listed high schools, as reported by DPI:
2007 Average Composite ATC Score
(white students only)
1. West (5) 26.6
2. Memorial (10) 25.4
3. East (21) 25.0
4. Middleton (3) 24.6
5. McFarland (9) 24.4
6. Verona (8) 23.7
7. Shabazz (17) 23.5
8. Monona Grove (15) 23.4
8. Sun Prairie (12) 23.4
10. LaFollette (20) 23.3
10. Mt. Horeb (13) 23.3
10. WI Heights (11) 23.3
13. Waunakee (2) 23.1
14. Oregon (7) 22.9
15. DeForest (14) 22.6
16. Belleville (16) 22.4
17. Stoughton (19) 22.3
18. Deerfield (6) 21.8
19. Marshall (18) 20.5
Not surprisingly, West is again at the top of the heap, followed by Memorial. But how many would have guessed that East’s average ACT score for white students is higher than the comparable average of every suburban high school in Dane County?
One can draw one’s own conclusions from this. To me, this suggests what I have thought for awhile: The popular perceptions of our area high schools, fed by purveyors of conventional wisdom like Madison Magazine, tend to sorely undervalue the educational opportunities available to college-bound students in Madison’s public high schools as compared to what’s available in other public high schools in Dane County.