ONE YEAR AGO WE PUBLISHED what was then the most accurate and comprehensive ranking of Texas public schools ever ( “How Good Is Your Kid’s School?” November 2001), assigning nearly 5,400 elementary, middle, and high schools between one and five stars—five stars signifying one of the best schools in the state, one star one of the worst. In doing so, we tossed out the state’s traditional rating system, which is based on how many students score at least 70 on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills ( TAAS) tests, in favor of one with the tougher standard of “proficiency,” meaning a grade of 85 or better. Also unlike the state, we recognized that low-income schools cannot be compared fairly with high-income schools, so we tweaked the rankings to account for economic disadvantage; schools in poor districts (that is, those with the highest percentage of students on a federally subsidized lunch program) would be compared only with other schools in low-income districts, and so on.
We figured that parents and property-value-conscious homeowners would be interested in such a story, and we were right: Our rankings generated more letters, e-mails, phone calls, and Web site hits from around the state than anything we’ve done in recent memory. No wonder, then, that we’ve opted for an encore.
For our 2002 list—compiled once again by the invaluable data crunchers at the nonprofit National Center for Educational Accountability (formerly Just for the Kids)—we’ve embraced the same tough standards and accounted for the economic well-being of student populations in Texas’ 1,264 school districts. Yet because of a refinement in our methodology, we were able to rank many more high schools than we did last year. You can find our list of 1,112 schools—up from 864 in 2001—starting on page 170 (in the print copy). (We’ve also updated and expanded our rankings of some 4,500 elementary and middle schools; they can be found, along with an electronic version of our high school rankings, at texasmonthly.com.) When you type in your school’s name, you’ll see the number of stars it received and the data used to arrive at its ranking, including TAAS scores. You can also search for all schools in a given school district.
Our rankings are based on a variety of factors, including student performance on the TAAS reading, writing, and math tests for the tenth grade; the school’s success at educating two levels of students—proficient and low-proficient—as measured by junior high school TAAS