In Response To School Rankings: You Can’t Ignore The Data You Don’t Like


Several letters have been released this month detailing the “decline” in Los Alamos Public Schools, specifically the high school, as evidence by state test scores. Graphs showing a major decrease in proficiency have been published, such as this one:

It makes for a seemingly convincing argument; something must have happened in 2015 that reduced educational quality, right? As someone that was a sophomore in 2015, I remember exactly what happened that year – we moved from the NMSBA to the PARCC test. Additionally, in 2019, we moved off of the PARCC test. One of the most important rules in science is that you cannot compare unalike data sets. Thankfully, there is a “negative” control – the data for the state as a whole as well as similar schools such as La Cueva and Centennial (note that Centennial opened in the 2012-2013 school year) is available. Let’s look at the data in context:

This doesn’t really show much other than the fact that the PARCC test is more difficult than the NMSBA. I guess 2019 was a bit lower than expected, but there is plenty year-to-year variation. No one was complaining in 2011, 2013, or 2017 that LAPS was decaying. Let’s take a look at the other subjects too:

I fail to see any legitimate argument about LAPS declining. Just to cover all the bases, let’s look at the rankings too. Here are the current 2021 US News Rankings:

1. Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science (enrollment 160)

2. Cottonwood Classical Prep (enrollment 361)

3. The Academy for Technology and the Classics (enrollment 240)

4. Los Alamos High School (enrollment 860)

It is true that LAHS was #1 in 2005, but let’s take a closer look at these other schools. AIMS is a charter school where classes such as AP Calculus and Japanese are required. It opened in 2009. Cottonwood is also a charter school, where IB classes are required. It opened in 2008. ATC is (wait for it…) a charter school that requires AP and pre-AP classes. In its current form, it was established in 2007. It is unsurprising that three charter schools that seem to cater entirely towards college-bound students ranks higher on college readiness. If Reagor et al see this as an issue, why is he proposing a return to traditional education rather than the conversion of LAHS to a charter school? Just to be clear, I am not proposing that since public schools need to cater to everyone. I would like to ask the “traditional education” crew, what exactly is it you are complaining about?

Teddy Warner