CHS among nation's best high schools

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cassville High School has been recognized as one of the top high schools in the United States by the U.S. News and World Report. The magazine's 2009 listing of "America's Best High Schools" hit newstands on Dec. 8, 2008.

Cassville is one of only five high schools in southwest Missouri to receive a bronze medal listing. In all, there were only 41 Missouri schools recognized by U.S. News and Report. No schools in the state were awarded gold medals, five received silver medals and 36 were bronze medal recipients.

"To be considered as one of the top schools in the nation is a huge recognition for our school and our district," said CHS Principal Brad Hanson. "Like I've always said, we have great teachers and great students, and that's why we were able to make the grade on this."

Making the grade

This is only the second year that U.S. News and World Report has published a list of top high schools in the U.S. similar to their elite ranking of colleges and universities that the magazine has been producing since 1983.

The publication graded more than 21,000 public high schools in the U.S. In particular, the report looked at each school's performance on standardized tests and also rated the institution's efforts to prepare students for college.

The report also focused on how the "least advantaged" among the high school population performed. According to the U.S. News and World Report's editorial staff, the magazine teamed up with School Evaluation Services to create an "innovative methodology" to analyze how high schools serve all students, not just top achievers.

Schools were then ranked using this method, and the top 100 schools in the nation were awarded gold medals. An additional 504 schools received silver medals and 1,231 more were given bronze medals. This number represents the top 10 percent of the nation's public high schools.

What defines a top high school?

According to the magazine's methodology, a "best high school" is one that meets the following three criteria:

* Attains performance levels that exceed statistical expectations given the school's relative level of student poverty. The study looked at performance on state tests in the core subjects of reading and math.

* Achieves proficiency rates on state tests for its least advantaged student groups that exceed the state average. Cassville High School's disadvantaged enrollment represents 44.9 percent of total enrollment, according to the report.

* Prepares its students for college as measured by student participation and performance on Advanced Placement (AP) exams and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. Cassville High School relies mainly on dual-credit courses for its advanced classes rather than AP or IB coursework, and as a result, college readiness was difficult to measure at Cassville and many other small or rural school districts.

Based on this evaluation system, gold medals were awarded to the top 100 schools that met all three criteria, and silver medals were awarded to schools that met all three criteria but were not among the top 100. Bronze medals recognized schools that met state test performance guidelines but did not demonstrate high levels of measurable college readiness.

Another group of schools (153) received honorable mention recognition for achieving high levels of college readiness but falling short in the area of state test performance.

CHS expects a lot from its students

When asked what contributed to Cassville High School's "best high school" recognition, Hanson said he believed the number one factor lies in the school's philosophy of setting the bar high for its students.

"We have high expectations for our students," said Hanson. "That's something I have experienced at Cassville High School long before I became principal, but we have done things in the last four or five years to keep that going and increase it."

According to Hanson, there has been an emphasis placed on increasing rigor in the classroom. Teachers have accomplished this task by emphasizing critical thinking among their students.

"We have also focused on literacy, which in turn raises the expectations and rigor in the classroom," said Hanson. "When you have high expectations in all things, it rubs off on students' performance."

A challenge that Cassville High School has tackled over the years is serving the district's high percentage of students who are considered disadvantaged by state standards. In Cassville, that percentage falls just short of the 50 percent mark.

"First and foremost, it's important to note that we have high expectations for all our kids," said Hanson. "We expect all our kids to succeed."

Specifically, two programs have been initiated in the past two years that target student success. One of those program's is the high school's mandatory tutoring program and the other is its ACES advisement approach.

All students who have a 70 percent or below in any class are now required to attend tutoring during the final 28 minutes of the school day. All students are also involved in ACES, which places them in a small group of students with a teacher as an advisor.

"Both of these programs have set a positive tone for the students that emphasizes the importance of achievement in the classroom," said Hanson. "ACES has also gotten more parents involved with their child's education, which is always a good thing."

Innovative programs and challenging classroom curriculum are vital to school success, but it takes teachers and students buying into the concept that produces meaningful results.

"We truly have teachers who are willing to work with students to see them succeed at higher levels, and we have students who are willing to meet those higher expectations," said Hanson. "I still believe that we have the best teachers and best students in the state."

Other Missouri schools that made the cut

The five public schools in the state that earned silver medal recognition include: Clayton (St. Louis County); Lincoln College Preparatory (Kansas City); Lindbergh (St. Louis County); Metro (St. Louis City); and Rock Bridge (Columbia).

Bronze medal recipients from Missouri are: Alton, Arcadia, Benton, Brentwood, Campbell, Cassville, Central (Springfield), Central (Park Hills), Clearwater, Cole Camp, Conway, East Carter County, East Prairie, Farmington, Fatima, Fordland, Gainesville, Joplin, Knox County, Laquey, Lee's Summit, Liberal, Malden, Morgan County, Northview, Norwood, Parkview (Springfield), Penney, Puxico, Skyline, South High (Ballwin), South Iron, South Pemiscot, Valley Park, Winona and Woodland.

For more information on the report, go on-line to

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