Regardless of how much value you may give to these rankings, to have our highest elementary school ranked 15, most below 25, and our middle school not even in the top 40, while spending more in our schools than the vast majority (if not all) of towns in our state cannot be acceptable. The also recent, more objective MCAS scores further reflect that state of affairs, with our schools showing mediocre performances at best in relation to the state. Certain subjects in certain grades were even below “meeting expectations” (!).
Given how long this decay in academic standards in our schools has been going on and given the comments made by Dr. Lussier and by our high school principal, Dr. Chisum, when the equally embarrassing high school rankings came out earlier this year, I cannot help but wonder whether any of you even care. In light of our resources, especially in comparison with that of other towns, I’m afraid that I am unable to see any explanation for this scenario other than a combination of ineptitude and omission from you, while also having your priorities woefully misplaced. I certainly cannot fathom the alternative, which would be academic neglect by design.
You are failing our children and our town. Hopefully a recall provision for the School Committee will be introduced and approved and we, the people, will exercise more control over our children’s education.
Sincerely, Dario O. Fauza, MD, PhD
Co-Director of the Surgical Research Laboratories | Boston Children’s HospitalAssociate | Maternal Fetal Care Center at Boston Children’s HospitalAssociate Professor of Surgery | Harvard Medical School
Wellesley continues to see a decline in enrollment, which Wellesley Concerned Parent’s believe is a result of the continuous academic decline. Parents are choosing to remove their children from the public school system. In fact, amongst peer schools in the area, Wellesley has had the second largest decline.
My children, my wife and I attended public schools and universities exclusively until this past school year when we pulled our youngest from WPS and enrolled them in private school. The pandemic was the impetus for my search for alternatives, but my final decision was based on my sense of declining academic quality at WPS. Half of my opinion was based on personal observations, one of which was the realization that the Hunnewell elementary curriculum was essentially the same as when I began school over 50 years ago. Having moved to Wellesley for the schools I found it hard to believe that the first-grade curriculum in Lexington, as described to me by my sister who is a first-grade teacher there, was so much more advanced. This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize it’s Lexington, Kentucky where she teaches.
Being a fact driven engineer, I tried to find out if this anecdotal evidence was supported by the facts, and ironically, I found my answer in the 2018-2019 District Progress Report prepared by and distributed by WPS, themselves. In the Peer District Comparisons section there was one stark comparison that can’t be ignored. Wellesley spent $19,381 per student or 36% more than Belmont at $14,246 per student. However, what was truly alarming was that Belmont outscored Wellesley in every grade level and category of the MCAS results reported, with the largest discrepancy (84% vs. 73%) in Grades 5-8 Science. To be fair, WPS outscored Belmont on the Composite Average SAT score by a meager 1.4% or 1253 vs. 1236, but I believe that the likely explanation is Wellesley parents’ financial capability to pay for Russian math, tutors, and SAT prep which is strangely considered a necessary supplement to a WPS education. The quantitative data is limited because WPS no longer participates in comprehensive national exams. However, the data is consistent with the 2021 US News and World Report Public High School Rankings where Wellesley is in freefall.
I suspect that most parents in Wellesley automatically assume what we did, which was that once we move to Wellesley our children’s education is golden. Furthermore, I suspect that this feel-good assumption is rarely questioned or revisited. Well, based on the exceptional education my children are receiving in private school, I suggest you take a deeper look into what is actually going on in Wellesley and start asking questions. At this point, you probably think I’m paying $40k+ per child for private school, but I’m actually paying $16k per student at Veritas Christian Academy. Furthermore, the actual spend per child is much less than $16k because Veritas is a cooperative where staff children get to attend at a significant discount. So why can’t WPS do better with $19k per student?
I must admit that my children (grades 6 & 8) want to return to Wellesley because that’s where they have all their friends they have grown up with, which is why I’m raising this issue now and hoping that WPS and the School Committee perform some introspection, and become more transparent, responsive and interactive with the community. Public Speak is just not sufficient, and our school leaders need to stop hiding behind that shield and start answering questions. What prompted this post was my youngest asking to return to WPS, but in the same sentence saying that she “realizes that the education she would get would be much worse.” She is eleven years old, so why does the School Committee seem so happy and content?
When I stand back and try to understand why WPS falls short, the overarching conclusion I reach is that Wellesley has lost focus and no longer takes traditional academics seriously or makes it a priority. For the sake of my children, I hope they can find their way again and return academic excellence to Wellesley.
Analysis of Wellesley Ranking Compared to Other MA Pier Schools
The point has been made in discussion with various parent groups that the ranking of Wellesley HS in national rankings has declined. A preliminary assessment of this indicates that there may be some basis to this assertion. Examination of the data indicates that the source of the decline is a result of math and reading proficiency.
The Word on the Street & Ranking
Discussions of ranking decline tosses around various numbers such as declined from 4 to 28, or from 12 to 26. The first problem then is to determine what ranking system is being used.
The most commonly referenced ranking is the “U.S. News & World Report” high school ranking. US News has published high school rankings since 2007. However, in 2019, the publication changed its methodology. Consequently, a pre-2019 ranking in the survey is not comparable to a post-2019 ranking.
This paper works with the 2019, 2020 and 2021 rankings as published by US News.
A further complication to analysis is that US News publishes the rankings on-line. Obtaining data from earlier years is quite difficult as there does not seem to be a single source to view past rankings.
Wellesley HS Ranking
In the 2021 rankings, Wellesley HS ranked 26th in the state, an improvement over 2020 when it ranked 28th, but a marked decline from 2019 when it ranked 19th.
The concern when using statistics is whether a change is “statistically significant”. A movement from 12th to 13th position might not be significant, but in this instance I would posit that a decline from 19th to 26th is statistically significant.
One of the better ways to examine such a change is to see how Wellesley HS fared compared to what the School Committee regards as our “peer” schools. The annual district report list 17 school systems that the Committee compares Wellesley HS to. In the 2021 rankings those school systems ranged in rank from a high of 7th (Lexington) to a low of 68th (Lincoln-Sudbury).
For the purposes of visually observing the movement in the rankings over the past three years the graph below looks only at schools in the top 25 as of the 2019 rankings and shows their movements in the recent three years.
Among the top-3 schools, Lexington, Dover-Sherborn and Belmont, there is a demonstrated ability to not just be at a high ranking, but to sustain that position over time.
In the next group, there is considerable volatility and the result of the volatility is, with one exception, not good. All of the schools in the lower group save Weston, are at a lower rank in 2021 than they were in 2019.
Weston is the one exception. In 2020 the school increased its ranking significantly and then held the ranking in 2021. It would seem to early to say whether or not the school can sustain the improvement.
Why Do Schools Move?
There are six components to the US News ranking system, but four of them combine into two elements that comprise 80% of the ranking.
One is “college readiness” (30%) and “college curriculum breadth” (10%). This part of the score looks at students who took AP course and passed AP course, with the pass being weighted more heavily that just taking the course. The “breadth” component looks at how many students took a wide variety of AP courses an exams.
The second major element is “reading and math proficiency” (20%) and “reading and math performance” (20%). This component looks at how well students perform on the MCATs and also looks at how well the students perform against a model of expected performance based on school demographics, income and the like.
Unfortunately, US News does not publish the performance of each school in each category. What is published is partial data relating to the AP component, partial data relating to the reading and math proficiency and then the graduation rate.
Taking the data that is published leads to the table below:
This is from the 2021 data. The question we are now asking is, “What distinguishes the top four schools from the rest?”
Graduation rate can be tossed immediately from consideration. There is only a 2% variation between schools and given a weighting of 10% in the rankings, it will account for little.
Given the conversation of late from the School Committee that AP courses are being cut and students referred to “Honors’ courses, this would seem to be a prime suspect for the decline. While this may be part of the cause, I suspect it is a relatively small component. It is true that relative to the top 4 with the exception of D-S fewer Wellesley HS students take AP courses. But of those who do take AP courses, a significant proportion pass.
Wedfield and Weston look good, at least in terms of the percentage of students taking an AP course, but the difference between those taking and those passing likely hurts their overall rank.
Nevertheless, a policy at Wellesley HS to decrease the number of AP offerings and enrollment in AP courses will eventually impact our position in the rankings.
The only item left for consideration is reading and math proficiency. Two points are striking here between the top-4 and the rest.
First, the scores are 89% or better in both reading and math at all of the top-4. Second, with the exception of Lexington, the difference between the reading and math score is only 1 percentage point. A high ranking would seem determined by not just a high overall score, but by consistent performance in the two score areas.
As well as Wellesley does on math at 89%, the ranking is harmed by a 4 percentage point difference between the math and reading score. Lexington has the same difference, but winds up with a higher ranking because it is starting with a math score of 96% and even with a 4 point difference realizes a reading score of 92%.
Winchester – A Cautionary Tale?
As the graph indicates, Winchester has fallen precipitously in the rankings. Yet, it is notable that the reading and math proficiency scores at 86% in both reading and math are quite close to the Wellesley scores and are the same in both reading and math. However, on the AP measures Winchester is significantly lower in both enrollment and success in AP courses.
This suggests that it will be insufficient to improve the Wellesley reading and math proficiency if at the same time AP course and college readiness are ignored. To advance in the rankings Wellesley will need to improve reading and math proficiency while sustaining the AP environment.
A longitudinal study of three data points is not truly sufficient to establish trends.
That being said, one cannot escape the observation that the best schools are consistently the best schools. The best schools show over even this limited timeframe consistent performance. Whereas the less highly ranked school display considerable volatility in their ranking.
From a school management perspective, I would suggest that the volatility is a greater issue than higher or lower ranking. If component of the ranking is stable and consistent it would seem to provide a more certain base to improve from than if the component is moving around from year to year leaving school with the challenging goal of trying to improve a moving target.