West and Memorial lead state in National Merit scholars

Susan Troller:

wo Madison high schools easily outpaced any other high schools in Wisconsin in the number of students who qualified as semifinalists for the 2008 National Merit Scholarships. Thirty-one students at West High School qualified and 24 qualified at Memorial in the prestigious scholarship competition.
Schools with the next highest numbers of semifinalists were Mequon’s Homestead High School in Ozaukee County with 17 semifinalists and the University School of Milwaukee with 16 semifinalists.
Four students at East High, two students at La Follette and one student at Edgewood also qualified for a total of 62 National Merit semifinalists from Madison.
Other Dane County high schools with qualifying students include Middleton (10 students), De Forest (5 students), Monona Grove (3 students), Verona (3 students), Oregon (2 students), Sun Prairie (2 students), Mount Horeb (2 students, including a student who is homeschooled), Deerfield (1 student) and Waunakee (1 student).

8 thoughts on “West and Memorial lead state in National Merit scholars”

  1. Among Dane County’s public and private high schools, the percentage of enrolled 11th graders (2006-07) who qualified as National Merit Semi-Finalists is:
    5.8% West
    4.6% Memorial
    2.0% DeForest
    2.0% Middleton
    1.7% Deerfield
    1.2% Monona-Grove
    0.9% Verona
    0.8% East
    0.7% Oregon
    0.7% Edgewood
    0.7% Mt. Horeb
    0.5% La Follette
    0.5% Sun Prairie
    0.4% Waunakee
    0.0% St Ambrose
    0.0% Country Day
    0.0% McFarland
    0.0% Stoughton
    (Note: the enrollment denominator of HS juniors does not include students who dropped out before 11th grade or didn’t accumulate enough credits to earn promotion to 11th grade.)

  2. Congratulations to these students, their parents and their teachers. While just one measure of accomplishment, it is nonetheless something to be proud of.
    I can’t help asking, however: Given the large number of obviously academically talented students at West, how can a one-size-fits-all curriculum fairly serve their needs?
    I am reminded of a story from our own family. My mother-in-law (trained as a nurse not a teacher, I might add) taught at a very expensive, private K-8 school in California. The school had strict admission testing. She liked to brag how well their students did on subsequent standardized tests. My response was that all this told us was they hadn’t harmed these kids. They’d taken talented test takers and after eight years they continued to test well.
    This observation applies equally well to this talented group at West and Memorial.
    The real proof, I think, is whether MMSD offers these students a curriculum that encourages their continued growth and improvement. And the ultimate test is how well they do AFTER they leave MMSD.
    For instance, a friend’s daughter just started in Marquette’s Dental Scholars program (equivalent to UW’s Med Scholars program) which combines undergrad with dental school provided a certain grade point is maintained. Among her peers, she finds most if not all had taken AP Bio or Chem–did I fail to mention she graduated from West? So this first semester, her peers will be “reviewing” these courses while she plays catch-up.
    The reality is that many students who took high school AP classes aren’t testing out and moving on to the next level in college. Rather, they repeat those courses and effectively cruise. The “arms race” on grades is alive and well in college, in other words. But it is far more than grades or test scores; it is the level of preparation we provide our students and whether they can excel at a subject when they find themselves at such a disadvantage.

  3. It is worth noting that of the 62 semifinalists from MMSD, 7 graduated from EAGLE school in 8th grade. That’s 4 of West’s and 3 of Memorial’s. Also, one of Monona Grove’s NMSFs. EAGLE is a small school which had 21 graduates that year (2004.)

  4. I don’t see any reason to twist good news around to make it bad news. I thought it was striking that West had 10 times the rate of National Merit Scholars as Edgewood, adjusting for student population. And they make you take a test to get into Edgewood (and Eagle), not to mention charging tuition, whereas West takes all comers.
    We have three children at West, all high achievers in school thus far. While I don’t consider everything at West to be perfect by any means, I don’t find my children’s curriculum to be “one size fits all.” I would like to see discussion move beyond this somewhat tired phrase.

  5. Sorry you’re tired of the phrase, Kay. I’ll be interested to hear how your children feel four years-six years from now, once they’ve gone on to university. What I was referring to in the one-size-fits-all phrase are the changes underway at West, not yet fully implemented, but certainly coming.
    I believe there has been a great deal of discussion here about the Small Learning Community grant and its impact on curriculum, also specific discussions regarding the untested changes to West’s English programming as well as posts on the wide differences among our high schools as to AP course offering, West offering the fewest and none in science.
    I find the phrase apt and a shorthand for those lengthier conversations.

  6. My idea was more along the lines of “Think how many MORE NMSF’s MMSD might have, given their extraordinarily talented student base, if students were offered something more than the non-accelerated, homogeneous, one-size-fits-none curriculum which is currently available in MMSD K-8 (actually it’s getting to be K-9 and coming K-10.” OK, there’s a bit of something in math in some middle schools, but not much in other subjects. Yes, it’s a relief that so many emerge from the system intact. Good news, indeed. Good news for those students. But not such good news for those students who don’t have the requisite inner strength to persevere against the headwinds and aren’t as well supported at home, but who might have also been on the list if a gifted/honor program had been available to boost them during their K-8 years.

  7. Sorry, Joan, I don’t find the phrase “apt.” If you mean “heterogeneous classes” in some subjects and grades, I think just saying so would contribute to a more nuanced discussion.
    My 11th grade daughter is taking what are clearly advanced track classes in science, math, and English. She had an excellent experience in English 10, in which she did the honors option, but that was mostly due to an exceptional teacher, which for my money trumps everything else every time. My 9th graders are taking classes out of grade level in 2 subjects.
    So to say that this curriculum is “one size fits all” strikes me as a slogan rather than a description. There is, I agree, a worthwhile discussion to be had regarding tracking at West–where it exists, where it is unacknowledged, for whom it is working, whom it is failing, how it could be improved–but people slinging slogans around is not a discussion.
    I am trying to decide whether the concern you express for my children’s future well-being is sarcastically meant. You sound as if you’re implying that I’ll regret my alleged complacency later. I am anything but complacent. I expect, however, regardless of bumps in the road, that my children will feel fine in college and beyond. In part that may be because our idea of a great college experience is not necessarily reviewing advanced classes you took in high school in order to put up the highest grades with the least effort.

  8. Kay,
    Your 11th grader has only seen changes in English. The changes that are coming will involve more subjects and extend beyond 10th grade. So perhaps you misunderstand me or I you. I’m talking about the overhaul to the high school curriculum brought on by the SLC grant, the extension as well as the first one that brought us West’s English 9 and 10.
    I am not being at all sardonic on how you might feel after West. I would truly be interested in your perspective after your children attend college. Our children did not attend UW after West (during, but not after.) In both their cases, Stanford and Macalester, their peers almost universally had taken the entire AP curriculum at their high schools. As I noted, these peers were also not placing out of subjects, but repeating them.
    What is coming is the extension of the K-8/ heterogeneous classes model in as many subjects and across as many grades as the district can get away with. In my opinion, and of course you may take that however you wish, it will not serve well those students like your children who are able, ready and interested in a more challenging curriculum, like the one their college peers are having.

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