by Genevieve Postlethwait, The Paducah Sun
This is Niche.com's second year ranking K-12 schools. A group of Carnegie Mellon University students started the site in 2002 under the name College Prowler to review and rank the nation's universities. In recent years, the site has grown to review and rank K-12 schools as well.
December 3, 2015
Used with permission.
Two of the state's best public school districts are right here in western Kentucky, according to a recently released list from Pittsburgh-based Niche.com, which gathers and analyzes school data across the nation.
The site ranked Murray Independent Schools as the fourth best in Kentucky with Paducah Public Schools sixth best.
"We're trying to present a holistic picture of these schools," said Alex Caffee, business and market analyst with Niche. "It's not an exact science, but we're trying to present the fullest picture possible. Over 50 different statistics go into our rankings, plus real reviews."
Each school and school district was graded on the strength and quality of its academics, teachers, school resources, student life, and reviews from its own students and parents. Even the quality of the schools' food was taken into consideration. Niche pulled data from a wide variety of sources, Caffee said, relying heavily on information from the Department of Education and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Paducah Tilghman and Murray High School also ranked well individually, with Tilghman 12th and Murray 13th among the 226 high schools included in Niche's list. All of western Kentucky's public high schools were included in the list, save for McCracken County High School. McCracken wasn't included in this year's rankings, Caffee said, simply because there wasn't sufficient data with the school being so new.
Murray's top marks aren't surprising, considering the district consistently ranks among the state's top districts in the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP). This year the district ranked fourth in the state for its K-PREP performance.
Paducah ranked 150th for its K-PREP performance when scores came out in October. Even so, Paducah Superintendent Donald Shively wasn't at all surprised to see his district ranked among the state's best in Niche's more holistic list.
"When I first saw the high ranking, I felt it reflected the progress we have made toward accomplishing our district's vision of “ knowing each and every child by name and need," Shively said.
"This is a more holistic view of the students' education experience. Not only does the ranking weigh heavily on academics, but it also includes ratings for teachers, administrators, extracurricular activities, student safety, student culture and diversity, and our education outcomes."
Academics accounted for 50 percent of each school and district's final score. Statistics that went into that 50 percent included graduation rates, dropout rates, student-teacher ratios, reading and math proficiencies, and how much the district spent on each student.
Niche gave Paducah a B- in academics, but gave the district an A+ for its student culture and diversity; A's for its administration and policies, extracurriculars and sports and fitness; A-'s for its educational outcomes, resources and facilities and teachers; and B's for its food, health and safety.
Shively was especially encouraged by some of the individual reviews posted on Niche's site by Paducah students and alumni. Several said the district prepared them well for college, several more highlighted the strength of Paducah's teachers, and many mentioned the district's strong sense of community and pride.
"This is an interesting, more holistic view of schools and school systems. It takes a variety of factors into account," added Will Black, Paducah's assistant superintendent.
"Standardized tests are important, and we will always strive to improve these measures of student achievement. But standardized tests are not a complete measure of school success. We are focused first on ensuring our students master core content, but we also have to develop the other skills and talents that our kids possess. This type of rating system really pulls that all together."
Niche's rankings for Kentucky's school districts, high schools and more can be found at https://k12.niche.com/rankings/.
Contact Genevieve Postlethwait, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651.
Posted Thursday, December 3, 2015