25 Worst Public Schools in America Methodology

When any study is conducted to compare and rate schools, the methodology is key. The findings reported here use each school's own No Child Left Behind test scores, but standardized by Neighborhood Scout's patent-pending methodology for true national comparison.

It is well known that the quality of education provided by public schools varies greatly across the country. Still further, the quality of a child's education can vary significantly from school district to school district within a state and can even be widely varied between two different schools within the same school district.

In an attempt to quantify student performance and to improve the performance of elementary and secondary schools across America, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was signed into law in January of 2002. The NCLB has earmarked billions of dollars that are directed to nationwide educational reform and improvement. Under NCLB each state receives federal dollars for its public and charter schools based on the performance of their schools. One of the main mechanisms for assessing performance is through testing and test scores. As a result, schools have begun placing far more of an emphasis on preparing students for these NCLB standardized tests.

While theoretically, the concept of a national NCLB standardized test should provide a milestone by which to compare the performance of all of the schools in the country relative to one another, the actual test is not truly standardized. This is because while the federal government passed down guidelines and standards for the creation of a testing mechanism, the states themselves were left to develop, implement and administer the actual NCLB tests. As a result, despite the federal guidelines and standards, there is still a wide variation in the difficulty and content of the actual tests that have been implemented from state to state. Therefore any school comparison system that employs strictly the NCLB results as a basis for comparison is likely skewed due to the widespread differences in the underlying tests.

Accordingly, there is a need for a method and system that provides normalization of the performance data for all schools across the nation, and which can provide a meaningful basis for comparison of school performance on a national basis.

NeighborhoodScout has invented a patent-pending method and system to directly compare school districts and individual schools across state lines based on their reported NCLB test scores, even though the tests are entirely different in each state.

The methodology operates on the basis that all students attending public elementary and secondary schools must take the NCLB offered within their state. While the NCLB test results can provide a meaningful comparison between any students and schools that were administered the same test, since the tests are different state-to-state, a comparison on this basis is generally inaccurate and unreliable. To normalize the NCLB test results based on the differences, Scout's methodology employs an additional factor that is employed as a modifier of the NCLB test results.

In addition to the NCLB testing, a population of randomly selected students in each state also takes the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. The NAEP test is the closest thing to a gold standard national test and it is administered in the same form to every student who takes the test. The difficulty in using this test as a basis for comparison on its own is that there are not enough students in any one school or school district that take the test to make it statistically significant for comparison. It is of note however that although the NAEP is the same in every location the results reported by the NAEP often differ significantly from the NCLB results for any given state.

For example, the average percentage of students who passed the NAEP in a recent year in Mississippi was 16% while in Massachusetts the pass rate was 45%, even though the test is the same. In contrast, Mississippi's recent state-specific NCLB testing scores show that nearly 75% of their students were proficient or advanced, making it look like Mississippi has an outstanding public school system. The reality however is that Mississippi's NCLB scores are high because their NCLB test is less challenging then the NAEP.

As a result neither of the available tests provides an ideal set of data for the comparison of schools on a nationwide basis. The NCLB is often skewed because of local test development bias and the NEAP is not administered on a widespread enough basis.

NeighborhoodScout's method takes the average percentage of students testing as proficient or advanced in reading and math on the NCLB state-specific test and subtracts the percentage of students in that same state who passed the NAEP, either in total or for these specific subjects. This subtraction produces a state-specific gap value that is then subtracted from each school and school district's NCLB proficiency percentages. Once the NCLB results are adjusted, the schools and the school districts nationwide are then ranked relative to one another. As a result, the methodology provides a curve that brings all individual schools and every school district to a nationally comparable rating based on the NCLB testing results.

From this research, the 100 Worst Public Schools in America have been identified. They are found in twenty different states, some in inner city urban areas, and some in rural America. All schools, regardless of the grade-levels served, have a charge of preparing their students for the next level, which is assessed by grade-appropriate testing, mandated by the federal government and developed and applied by the state department of education. Some schools do exceptionally well in preparing their students for the next step, and some do far less well. When we examine the schools using this yardstick of assessing how well the schools prepare their students for the next step, we end up with a mix of elementary, middle, and high schools as worst performers across the nation.

See the 25 Worst Performing Public Schools in the U.S.

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