Pair of area high schools ranked among leading 11% in nation

GREENFIELD — Two of Hancock County’s high schools ranked among the top 11 percent in the nation in a study by U.S. News and World Report.

The 2015 Best High Schools report lists Mt. Vernon High School at No. 21 in Indiana and No. 1,613 in the nation. That puts the school in the top 5 percent in Indiana and the top 8 percent nationally.

New Palestine High School was listed No. 41 in the state and No. 2,121 in the nation, making it among the top 10 percent in the state and top 11 percent in the nation.

The study reviewed 19,753 public high schools in all 50 states and analyzed how the schools were performing statistically with reading and math tests; college-readiness exams; and how black, Hispanic and low-income students were performing.

Greenfield-Central and Eastern Hancock high schools were also studied, but neither made the state or national ranking system. The review, done by social science research firm RTI International, has some local administrators pleased, and others wondering whether the analysis is reliable.

“The criteria they use is pretty good, overall,” said Bill Riggs, superintendent of Mt. Vernon schools. “We like the comparisons, and we are extremely pleased and elated with the ranking.”

The study awards gold, silver or bronze to high schools based on rankings, and only gold and silver winners were given rankings in the state and nation.

Mt. Vernon and New Palestine high schools received silver; Eastern Hancock received bronze; and Greenfield-Central received no medal.

Greenfield-Central High School Principal Steve Bryant is concerned the data is inaccurate: He noted that last fall, the Indiana Department of Education gave each local high school an “A” letter grade.

Bryant points to a discrepancy in how the study measures whether students are proficient in English and algebra. While the DOE measures end-of-course assessments, the study mixes state exit exams with Advanced Placement course work.

“Their numbers are wrong, and that’s why we weren’t ranked,” Bryant said.

Eastern Hancock Principal David Pfaff could not be reached for comment this week. New Palestine High School Principal Keith Fessler is also concerned about the numbers; the school was ranked No. 16 in the state last year, so to dip to No. 41 is surprising.

“I compared last year to this year, and I don’t see what changed so much,” Fessler said. “I think we’re a pretty darn good school. We’ve got great things going on.”

But Mt. Vernon High School, which received an identical state ranking last year, is promoting the accomplishment. The ranking is just one piece of the pie to encourage people to want to send their children to the school, Riggs said.

“In the last few years we’ve taken a few hits on our reputation because of the financial issues,” Riggs said. “We just want to show everyone that Mt. Vernon educational program is still one of the best in the state, and now that we’ve turned the corner financially, it’s a great place to be.”

At a glance

U.S. News and World Report recently released the 2015 Best High Schools list. Here’s a look at how local schools fared, and how the study was done:

Mt. Vernon High School ranked No. 21 out of 413 in the state; and No. 1,613 out of 19,753 in the nation.

New Palestine High School ranked No. 41 in Indiana and No. 2,121 in the nation.

Both New Palestine and Mt. Vernon high schools received  a silver medal.

Eastern Hancock High School did not receive a ranking but was awarded a bronze medal recognition.

Greenfield-Central High School did not receive a ranking or a medal.

A three-step process is used to determine the best high schools. RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm, determines whether each school’s students were performing better than statistically expected for students in their state, based on reading and math results. Step 2 assesses whether disadvantaged students — black, Hispanic and low-income students — were outperforming disadvantaged students in the state. Step 3 analyzes college-readiness performance based on testing data.