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Six Washington County schools listed among nation's best

December 04, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Six public schools in Washington County were named to a list of the country's best high schools as published by U.S. News & World Report.

Nearly 19,000 public high schools in 40 states were analyzed on their ability to serve all students well - not just those who are college bound, according to the publication's Web site. The "America's Best High Schools" report used data from the 2005-06 school year.

Of the 26 high schools in Maryland that were included in the list, six were in Washington County: Clear Spring, Hancock Middle-Senior, North Hagerstown, South Hagerstown, Smithsburg and Williamsport high schools.

The only schools not included were Boonsboro High and Washington County Technical High School. The latter would not have been eligible based on testing standards used, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Donna Hanlin said.

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There were no schools from Southcentral Pennsylvania or West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle included in the list.

It is the first time that U.S. News & World Report has ranked the country's high schools. The publication was available in stores Monday.

Of the nearly 19,000 schools considered, only about 1,600 were included in the list of the nation's best high schools. Those schools received either a gold, silver or bronze distinction. North Hagerstown, Smithsburg and Williamsport high schools each received the silver ranking, and Hancock Middle-Senior, Clear Spring and South Hagerstown high schools received the bronze.

"Five years ago, the school system set an agenda to move our high schools from good to great," Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said. "And our staff has done an excellent job in reaching for that goal."

Researchers first determined whether students were outperforming average test scores in the state on High School Assessments. They then determined whether the school's minority students and those living in poverty were performing better than average for similar students in the state, according to the publication's Web site.

Schools that made it through those first two steps were judged on whether they produced the best college-level achievement for the highest percentages of their students. Advanced Placement testing results were used for this study.

"We've been doing the right kind of things obviously," Director of Secondary Education Clyde Harrell said. "We've focused on making sure our students are prepared and fare well on these tests."

He said students have been pushed to take more rigorous courses and also achieve more.

Smithsburg High School Principal Melvin Whitfield said that students at his school are taking about 200 Advanced Placement tests each year, and the scores are improving each year.

The U.S. News & World Report study is based on data from Whitfield's first year as principal at the school.

"I wanted to jump up and down and cheer," he said. "I just thought it was really a feather in the cap of Smithsburg High and the students, teachers and the community. We're very proud of our accomplishments and what we're doing here."

Harrell said that the school system has been putting most of its resources in the classroom to help students succeed.

"They put the money where it needed to be," North Hagerstown High School Principal Valerie Novak said.

Staff development and increased teachers salaries have helped Washington County Public Schools employ the "best and the brightest," she said.

Novak said that minority students at North Hagerstown High and those living in poverty have done increasingly well on the state tests, which was part of the criteria for being ranked by the publication.

Henry Bohlander, principal of Williamsport High School, said the school's motto is that success is the only option for students.

"We take pride in working with disadvantaged students ... help those who are the most in need," he said. "I will say that (our success) is owed to a hard-working staff and faculty who never give up on students."




Full list



To see the complete list of U.S. News & World Report's best high schools, go to www.usnews.com/highschools.




Methodology used



The following methodology was used to rank schools for the U.S. News & World Report "America's Best High Schools" publication:

· Attains performance levels that exceed statistical expectations given the school's relative level of student poverty, as measured by state accountability test scores for all the school's students in the core subjects of reading and math.

· Achieves proficiency rates on state tests for their least advantaged student groups (e.g., black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students) that exceed state averages.

· Prepares its students for college, as measured by student participation in and performance on Advanced Placement (AP) tests, which are administered by the College Board.

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