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The Milton Measure

[Editorial] Rank Speculation

by on Friday, June 5th, 2015

In this year’s Niche rankings, Milton Academy placed as the number one private high school in Massachusetts and as the eleventh best private high school in the nation. After yelling, “Go Stangs!” and exchanging some high fives with Mr. Bland, one might wonder what these rankings actually mean. Furthermore, how do these nameless critics evaluate schools like Milton?

Niche is a company founded by Carnegie Mellon University students, providing school and university school rankings and reviews. Niche says it takes into account three primary factors: academics, student culture and diversity, and survey responses. In academics, evaluators consider SAT/ ACT scores, college matriculation rates, and student-to-teacher ratios. For student culture and diversity, the ratio of genders, as well as the percentage of students belonging to the most represented ethnicity, is taken into account. Finally, survey responses include opinions of parents, students, and alumni about the community. Through a complex system of computation and statistics, each school is ranked in each category and then given an overall composite score, translated into a letter grade. Essentially, each institution, each student body, and each philosophy of teaching is reduced to a single number.

At Milton, we often ridicule those who are obsessed with the “numbers,” such as class grades and test scores. Teachers regularly de-emphasize grades, insisting that a transcript does not define a student’s value. The administration refrains from calculating student GPAs, and there is no class rank. Nevertheless, many students find themselves intrigued by the percentage at the top of their test rather than with their teacher’s comments. The dedication and ambition of Milton students perhaps accounts for this eagerness; however, there remains an unexplained human need to be quantified, to be told just how much (or how little) we are worth.

Milton is not the only environment where rankings may be overvalued. Private and public schools around the globe are ranked each year. Many students look at the US News and World Report list to see rankings of colleges done in a similar light. However, as a place that preaches about looking at our world in the bigger picture and that emphasizes the importance of forming perceptions of ourselves outside the classroom, Milton seems to contradict itself by participating in these rankings. School rankings try to assign a number to the human aspect Milton prides itself on. But how exactly does one quantify student-teacher interaction? Student activism and passion? What does it say about our society that people have tried to quantify these fundamentally abstract concepts? Some argue that creating a hierarchy pushes those at the bottom to improve. At the same time, rankings promote vanity in those on top, giving the impression that there is no need for change.

So what do these rankings really mean? To be honest, they mean nothing. Sure, they serve to boost our school pride, promote our school to the public, and give us hollow bragging rights over our rival school, Nobles and Greenough. And of course, we acknowledge that there are some things that can be objectively quantified as superior to others. However, there is no way to fairly compare entities such as high schools where every student body and faculty is unique. Numbers do not and cannot speak to the vibrancy of a community, the quality of its arts, the vigor of its discussions, or the depth of the personal relationships that occur on a daily basis. No community is perfect and no school can be the “best” at everything or for everyone. Niche’s statistical analysis describes Milton as the very best academic institution in Massachusetts with a positive environment and a diverse, involved student population that enjoys all of the school’s experiences, from teachers to extracurriculars. But, for each of us and each prospective student, the real question is whether or not this school is the best fit for our own lives.

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Posted by on Jun 5 2015. Filed under Editorial, More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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