This Is Not a Test: The Best Schools in Greater Boston 2014

Now more than ever, our faith in data is driving how we think about education. This month we look at where the numbers can take us, what they tell us—and how they can fail us.

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ed issue 1

Best Schools 2014

Our exclusive ranking of 65 area high schools.

Should I stay or should I go? That’s the question nearly all parents ask themselves at some point during the 15-plus years that their kids attend school. Sometimes the grass just looks greener at the public school in the next town over. And sometimes, it actually is greener. To complicate matters, the region has no dearth of private schools vying for your attention (and money). Boasting stratospheric SAT scores and country club–like campuses, they promise to shape your unruly teen into a polished Ivy League–bound young adult.

To help you address these potentially life-changing choices, we chased down and analyzed a dizzying array of data—test scores, student-to-teacher ratios, graduation rates—to produce proprietary rankings of both public and private high schools. We also explored the classic what if we moved dilemma by breaking down the relative costs of relocating to a “best school” town versus staying put and going the private school route.

Does the town next door truly offer better opportunities? Check out our charts to find out.

Top 50 Public Schools
See which schools top our ranking.

Public Schools Chart
Sort all public schools by test scores, graduation rate, and more.

September 12, 2014: After further investigation, we’re retracting the list of Private Schools and taking it offline. For more information, read our editor’s note.

September 9, 2014: We made four significant errors in the reporting and editing of our 2014 lists of Greater Boston’s best public and private schools. As a result, we have updated the rankings online, and will be publishing a corrected list of the top private schools in the October issue of Boston magazine. Please read our editor’s note regarding the changes.

 


— More —

Public vs. Private
Seven town vs. town comparisons to help you decide.

Alternative School Ranking
XKCD author Randall Munroe weighs in with his own list.

 


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ed issue 2

How Tests Are Failing Our Schools

The newly elected president of the state’s teachers union wants to abolish our reliance on standardized test scores. And she’s not backing down.

 


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ed issue 3

How to Game the College Rankings

Northeastern University executed one of the most dramatic turnarounds in higher education. Its recipe for success? A single-minded focus on just one list.

 


Methodology: We gathered the most recent available data at press time on public schools from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (doe.mass.edu). Private school information was provided by those schools. We also consulted town and school websites if necessary. Statistician George Recck, the director of the Math Resource Center at Babson College, calculated the mean scores for each category, and then ranked the schools based on a weighted average of each school data point’s difference from the mean, using mean values when data was unavailable. Only public schools within the Greater Boston I-495 boundary were included.

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  • Guest

    Why was Burlington High School completely omitted?

    • Chris

      This is a list of the top 50 within 495. Burlington didn’t make the cut.

      • Johnny Panic

        Burlington wasn’t on the list of the 171 public high schools in Greater Boston on the “Public Schools Chart”. It was the only school in its area, and possibly in the geographical range of this list that wasn’t on it (and probably performs better than several of its neighbors, since it ranked number 43 on the last high school ranking list put out by Boston Magazine in 2012). It appears that it was either omitted or overlooked.

      • Southender

        I don’t think “Guest” was talking about the top 50 list. It can’t make the top 50 if it’s not included in the larger list at all. Were any other high schools within the 495 area not used in this ranking? If so, did Boston Magazine explain why? Burlington is well within Greater Boston, it probably should have been included in this list.

  • ohio man

    We don’t have much ability to gauge the performance of these schools based on these rankings. We do know that these towns vary quite a bit in demographics. Without controlling for massive variables such as income and even whether English is a student’s first language, these statistics just show you where the advantaged tend to live in Massachusetts (or perhaps where the disadvantaged tend not to live), not which schools are doing the best jobs of educating their students. If you sort by lowest Grade 3 test scores, you’ll note that some of the schools that start with the worst performing students end up with much higher scorers by 10th grade. For the average student, those schools may be “better” than a school that only takes kids from 85 to 95.

    The only somewhat fair apples-to-apples comparisons that you can really make are student-teacher ratio, average class size, and per-pupil spending, and you’ll see that these don’t correlate with the ratings, as they are vastly outweighed by the 15 out of 20 categories that are based on test scores. If your school’s test scores are low, even if it produces tremendous gains over the years, it will score low. Really, they could probably just include one of the three spending-related categories and one of the 15 test-score-related categories (the other two are graduation rate and college rate) without losing any predictive value.

    Bottom Line: Boston Magazine should replace its current system with a measure of improvement between grades 3 and 10.

  • Al

    From the methodology: “Private school information was provided by those schools. ” So you just accept what they provide? Huh. So if they wanted to “game the system” you’re …encouraging them to, huh?

  • tom

    Best Private Schools…what a joke!
    The methodology of allowing the private schools to report their own stats??? Does anyone believe that a school like Austin Prep has avaerage SAT scores in the mid 700s…please….and the editors didn’t question it. How about Boston Magazine asking to see the school report that College Board sends to each school. Now that would be real reporting!

  • http://www.bobbygzus.com/ bobbygzus

    It is disappointing that you have chosen to leave out the states amazing technical high schools when compiling this list. Perhaps taking a look at just what they are accomplishing Vs the district high schools they are up against may shed some light on my disappointment. Strongly suggest taking a comparative look at the metrics used for the district high schools associated with Shawsheen Valley Technical High School – then maybe you will start to include technical schools in your “public” high school rankings.

  • Bobby

    I wanted to thank the editors for retracting the private school rankings. I like to think that the large number of comments from readers played a role in this decision (note that most of the readers’ comments are no longer available because the page was taken offline). I would recommend the magazine be very careful if it wants to tread into this rankings space again. And I wouldn’t hire that statistician again for a job like this.