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Behind the rankings

Daniela Montes

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As George Mason High School was recently ranked the #2 high school in Virginia, The Lasso looks at how the rankings are determined for our area

Ranking GMHS

Ranking Falls Church City

By Daniela Montes

When you search for ‘George Mason High School’ in Google, many of the results will be websites that provide different rankings for our school. These rankings would classify anything that they can: from our culture and safety to our graduation rate. We read them, but we don’t always think of where they come from, or the ways our school is evaluated.


U.S. News & World Report, Greatschools, and Niche are the three major ranking websites. GMHS is ranked 57.4 out of 100.0 in college readiness, 6 out of 20 in overall rate, and A+ as an overall grade accordingly.

John Brett is the Director of Communications for FCCPS and he tracks rankings and the public’s perception of our schools. According to him, the U.S. News scores are the most accurate reflection of FCCPS’s quality.

“Greatschools is better [than Niche]. Niche is not as good and U.S. News is probably the most accurate including our IB scores” he said.

Each source uses slightly different information.

According to U.S News & World Report, some of their sources are The Common Core Data, The College Board, and each school’s statewide accountability proficiency test results and graduation rate. U.S. News uses a four-step process to determine the best national high school rankings. The school must pass three steps in order to be considered at the national level.

On the other hand, GreatSchools’ ratings are based on test scores, and in some states, on student progress and college readiness data. In addition to that, GreatSchools also considers factors that interfere in how children experience school, such as the support students from different socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups are given. GreatSchools uses a 1-10 scale; 10 being the highest, and 1 the lowest.

Niche methodology mostly uses available public data, like the U.S Department of Education, and over 60 million reviews and survey responses from students and parents. It also utilizes a much longer series of steps to calculate numerical rankings. Niche rankings are shown as assigned grades, where A+ is the highest, and D- the lowest.

As an IB school, GM performs exceptionally in the U.S. News rankings, since the website uses AP and IB scores for their rankings. At GM, 93 percent of our students take an IB exam and 63 percent an AP exam. On the contrary, Greatschools and Niche only take AP scores, so we are always going to rank further down than other schools where students take more AP exams.   

However, rankings are not that important for FCCPS administration.  

“We really don’t [look at rankings], we don’t care. I think our community cares more [about rankings] than we do, we look at raw test scores,” Mr. Brett said. “If we fall in the ranking we are not going to change our curriculum.”

In 2017, U.S News rankings lacked from IB data: this website depends on the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) to submit results on IB exams, and that year, the IBO informed them that it was unable to supply IB data for 12th grade students in 2014-2015, so rankings for all IB schools decreased a lot. This coming year they are going to be included.

Mr. Brett thinks our rankings would be fine for this year, and that we’ll be back with high rankings. “I think last year was a problem with US News rankings, and I think that will change in April [usually the month when U.S News releases high schools rankings each year]”.

Since Niche uses surveys and comments, their rankings are more of a public opinion, which can be important for our community too, but at the same time, should not be fully trusted.

“The more people visit a school profile [on Niche], the better there rankings are going to be,” Mr. Brett said.

There are two main problems for our school when it comes to rankings.

First, these three websites look at how well schools have improved their test scores. Mason students are already scoring very high, for example, which means there’s not much room for improvement in those rankings. If we keep our scores, the rankings won’t show that.

We also have a low number of low income students: Only 7% of our student body qualifies as “low income.” Most of the classifications weigh heavily on the number of those students who are improving, and who are at the same time low income. For example, our neighbor in Fairfax County, George Marshall high school has 20% of the students as low-income, so we won’t score quite as well for this reason too.

“We won’t change anything because of the rankings, but we will because of the raw test data,” Mr. Brett said, making it clear that our FCCPS administration cares the most about student performance, but it’s still important to keep up with rankings. It’s important that we know what’s out there, it’s important for us to know where we rank.”

Mr. Brett also believes that if our students keep on having good grades and, with some help of our community, our rankings in most websites can develop for good, “I think we’ll see a big change now that we understand what happened last year [with U.S News], and for GreatSchools and Niche, the only other thing we can do to improve our test scores there is just to constantly be working in our SOL, and have more of our parents and student to put reviews of the school.”

By Rachel Doornbosch

Falls Church is the healthiest. Falls Church is the drunkest. Falls Church is the “Best County to Live In”. Falls Church is the (second) wealthiest. Falls Church has the “Best School District in Virginia.”

And now, Falls Church can be proud that its own high school is #2 in the state of Virginia.

When another one is released, you can hear kids at school or people at Mike’s Deli chatting about Falls Church’s new ranking. But how do we know for sure where we stand?

According to Susan Finarelli, Director of Communication for the City of Falls Church, some of these rankings are not, in fact, very reliable because they are mostly published for commercial purposes. However, Finarelli stressed that every ranking is appreciated.

“We really appreciate every ranking, but we tend to value them more if they come from journalistically respected websites such as Forbes, or when they are based on community surveys,” Finarelli said.

For example, on January 18, Falls Church was ranked number one “County to Live In” by 24/7 Wall St, a Delaware-based financial news and opinion operation that produces content for sites including MarketWatch, DailyFinance, Yahoo! Finance, and on their own web site.

The authors, Evan Comen and Samuel Stebbins, said that “24/7 Wall St. developed an index based on the three socioeconomic measures used in the HDI [United Nations Human Development Fund] — educational attainment, poverty rate, and life expectancy.”

According to their website, Falls Church scored desirable on factors such as unemployment rate, poverty rate and life expectancy.  

In contrast, Finarelli, who manages all social media for the City of Falls Church, heavily promoted the fact that U.S. News ranked Falls Church as “America’s Healthiest Community.”  

U.S. News also used government data and develops their own methodology.

Finarelli said the rankings do help promote Falls Church as a desirable place to live. “[Rankings] get the name of the City ‘out there’ in a positive way,” she said.

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