The 58 or 58th: what really matters?

January 29, 2016

Right now, at Naperville North, the number 58 is telling two starkly different stories.

Each “58” is one side of the same coin, but we at The North Star aren’t so sure people outside of our school know which is the most important.

Last August, Newsweek published their rankings for high schools around the nation and NNHS came in at 58th. For both NNHS faculty and students, this was a testament to the hard work our community puts into its school system. More recently, NNHS received good news on the 2015 Illinois Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) test. At 74.7 percent, NNHS more than doubled the state average of students who met or exceeded standards on the English test (31 percent), and at 62.7 percent, Huskies more than tripled the state’s paltry 17 percent success rate in Math.

But there’s another 58 at our school, and it’s not a Newsweek number. This is the total number of students hospitalized throughout the 2014-2015 school year, the overwhelming majority due to mental health issues, according to estimates by NNHS Student Services.

The situation could be even more dire. According Jennifer Hervey, Dean of Student Intervention, there may be some mental health hospitalizations that weren’t reported to the school.

These hospitalizations cast a shadow on our school’s sterling reputation, calling into question the price that comes from the rigor and expectations placed upon the student body.

Newsweek and PARCC evaluated high school students based on quantifiable characteristics. But how much do rankings and percentages really matter?

The North Star believes numbers should not be the only way our school evaluates its success, or how we should be judged by others outside the school.

To many people, the basis for Newsweek’s findings appeared rather superficial. Yes, they do show that, on paper, the education system at NNHS is successful. In addition, NNHS was ranked highly in Newsweek’s “Beating The Odds” category, which examined how well a school’s low income students performed academically.

However, the high ranking is a measure, in part, of the fact that the majority of NNHS students can afford more test preparation than students from other schools.

Non-measurables, such as mental health, beg the question: should NNHS put statistics like PARCC tests, average ACT score and average AP test score at the forefront? Or should our school instead start accepting that we need to shift our focus toward the well-being of students?

In a North Star news story last fall, we were heartened to hear that administrators and teachers were well aware that test scores don’t tell the whole story, but stress levels continue to rise to uncomfortable levels. There are several reasons: the coursework is challenging, the athletics are extremely competitive and some students have jobs in order to help support their families. Consequently, too many students begin to crack under the pressure.

There are students who thrive in a high pressure environment, becoming extremely accomplished individuals, enrolling at prestigious universities and earning sizable scholarships.

While this system allows students like these to succeed in a very specific way–they are able to perform at a high level in science, math and language arts–our demanding environment may discourage students who do not perform as well in academically challenging settings. Not many equally intensive alternatives are offered to students who are more interested in exploring vocational classes, arts and other unconventional areas of study, creating a gap in the opportunities available to different types of students.

Perhaps NNHS has become too good at playing the education game. Students who are naturally attuned to subjects that are not as concrete as the core academics might have a more difficult time succeeding than they should. In addition, students who cannot devote as much time to academic subjects as their counterparts might find themselves struggling to reach the high expectations.

If the administration, teachers, parents and our community want to assist all students, then we need to focus less on validating our success with test scores and focus more on achieving our own definition of success.

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