Walls Trails Banneker in Rankings
Credits: Eleanor Houser
School Without Walls is known to many in the DMV as academically rigorous, often outperforming comparable schools. In the past, Walls has outranked analogous schools, like Benjamin Banneker High School, another DCPS institution that requires applications.
However, this year’s regional standings from the Washington Business Journal (WBJ) published in October placed Walls third among local high schools, trailing behind second-place Banneker.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia ranks first both regionally and nationally, beating out both Banneker and Walls.
This year, Walls ranks slightly higher than Banneker in nearly every metric used aside for reading proficiency, in which Walls has a score of 93/100 and Banneker 97/100. This comes as a shock to many who regard Walls as an example of excellence in the humanities.
The WBJ releases an article coupled with a slideshow ranking the DMV’s top high schools. The WBJ’s article uses statistics about K-12 education compiled by the US News and World Report for their assessments.
The Washington Business Journal’s editor in chief, Vandana Sinha, now leads the initiative for the publication of these rankings. In an interview, Sinha explained how she and staff at the WBJ write these articles. “We localize and pull our region’s schools into our ranking to create our own mini ranking,” she said.
The U.S. News and World Report, which the WBJ bases their findings on, evaluates schools on six factors. College readiness, measured through scores on AP or IB exams, is the factor with the most weight in the rankings. U.S. News also ranks schools based on the percentage of students who take AP or IB classes, state testing performance, how schools’ test scores compare to demographically similar schools, and, finally, underserved student performance.
Given these critical metrics, rankings can influence how many understand the caliber of students at a given school.
Instead of placing an outsized emphasis on these rankings, Principal Sylvia Isaac said, “Our number one goal is to be a school where students thrive… and if they’re not thriving or don’t have necessary supports, that is our focus.
“We do not spend time thinking about our school ranking,” Ms. Isaac added.
Eleventh grade counselor Kathryn Moore noted as well that “both [Walls and Banneker] have high quality academic programs that prepare students well for college and career success.”
While they are not the end-all-be-all, ranking changes can be jarring for students, families, and staff.
Ms. Moore highlighted that “colleges do assess high schools based on their programming and rigor, rankings included.” She explained that these rankings allow colleges to think about students' applications in a broader context that can influence their decisions.
Despite this, Ms. Moore cautioned against hyper-fixation on a school’s ranking: “Remaining engaged and informed about our efforts to promote student emotional health and wellness, equity, and academic success would have a much greater impact on the school experience and community than a simple ranking.”
Factors like college, and by extension jobs or income, can be massive motivators for people to attend certain schools. Sinha of the WBJ stressed this, remarking that “so much is based on what the school system is like. Our business decisions and our other life decisions ripple out from that.”