SAT, ACT, AP and School Ranking

Maria Levin, Staff Reporter

In 2016 DHS was ranked ¨7th Best High School in the State¨ on the U.S. News and World Report Best High Schools in the U.S. list. The process for ranking schools requires that the institution undergoes evaluation from many different angles. The intent of the process is to show where a certain school stands in comparison to other schools. Schools strive to receive a high ranking as this suggests that the school was successful in providing high-level education in a safe setting. The ranking can then be used as an advertisement for the school. School rankings provide the overall state of a school, though it may not always show the whole picture.

There are many factors that influence the ranking a particular school gets on this list. According to DHS Assistant Principal Joseph Taylor, the factors that influence school rankings largely depend on who is doing the ranking. However, ¨Generally, a school ranking deals with what courses are offered, the number of students who apply to and get accepted to colleges and universities after graduation, state test scores, specifically the SAT given in April, and the number of teachers with higher education degrees like Master´s degrees and Doctorates. Overall GPA also matters, as well as a variety of other things like extracurricular activities and athletics.¨

The ACT, SAT and other types of testing, as well as AP classes, play a big role in determining a school’s ranking. The ACT and the SAT are standardized tests usually given in high school that are widely used for college admissions. High scores on test such as the ACT and SAT suggest that the school did an exemplary job preparing students for the exam, which amounts to a higher ranking. A common question that often arises is whether the types of tests students take determine the ranking a school receives. In 2018, Chicago Tribune ranked Deerfield High School as the top high school in Lake County, and Ken Williams, the Assistant Principal in charge of standardized test administration, believes this is partly due to the shift from students taking the PARCC testing to the SAT and ACT exams. Mr. Williams stated, ¨I am very happy we are beyond the PARCC testing that we did a few years ago because we ranked very poorly on it. It´s not because our students weren’t prepared, it’s that there was a widespread disinterest in that test. Our students historically take SAT and ACT and AP very seriously and so I think that’s a more accurate measure of us as an institution.¨

While in this instance the type of test did have a noticeable effect on the ranking, this is not always the case. For example, the shifting focus from the ACT to the SAT has not shown any difference in DHS’ overall ranking, in part because other schools have shifted their exams too. Currently, SAT and ACT scores align more than they used to before the SAT got rewritten a couple of years ago. So while the type of test may have some say in the ranking, most of it comes from the scores students receive based on their academic knowledge, regardless of the type of test they took.

Advanced Placement also has a big influence in the ranking of our school, as the AP participation rate at DHS is 64%. Deerfield High School offers 23 Advanced Placement classes out of 38 exams total. AP classes play into school ranking in several different ways. The number of students taking the class is important. The more students that take AP classes, the higher a school is ranked as the high enrollment demonstrates the school´s ability to prepare high school students for college-level courses. According to Mr. Williams, ¨Nowadays you’re seeing more interest in the number of students taking AP courses so a lot of schools are doing things to encourage that.¨

Some schools get ranked highly because they strongly encourage all students to take at least two to three AP classes before graduating. Schools are interested in expanding the number of students taking an AP class because high percentages of the student body enrolled in the AP program raises rankings. However, Deerfield High School does not try to push kids into the AP program for the sake of making itself look better. For example, a couple years ago a suggestion was made to change Honors World History to AP World History. Even though the suggestion would have potentially increased the ranking of the school, it was decided that for DHS students, the freshman/sophomore Honors curriculum is rigorous enough, without the added stress or distraction of the AP designation.

The grades students receive in the AP classes also influences school ranking, as does the scores students receive on the final AP test. High scores (usually a 3 or higher on the 5 point scale) on the AP exam indicate the high level of preparation delivered by the school´s faculty and its overall ability to effectively teach college-level material.

The ACT, SAT and AP Exams all contributed to the high ranking our school received in 2016 and 2018. It is interesting to see what influence the shift from the ACT to the SAT, as well as increasing participation in AP programs, will have on the ranking of Deerfield High School in the future, when it will be clear whether the changes succeeded in their intent to truly represent the success level of the school.