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Schools in Spokane County fail to crack top 40 in U.S. News state rankings, but 15 of 19 are in the top half

UPDATED: Sat., April 30, 2022

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.   (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (JESSE TINSLEY)

If standardized test scores and college readiness are any indication, high schools in Eastern Washington are falling further behind those in the Puget Sound.

U.S. News & World Report published its annual national and state rankings of high schools this week, and the results are mostly predictable.

Schools located in Seattle suburbs top the list of 347 public high schools in the state, while those located in high-poverty areas tended to fill lower ranks.

While no Spokane County high school took top spots in the review, most high schools in the county were ranked in the top third of all high schools in the state. And Spokane Public Schools fared well, with three of its five high schools in the top 20%. Of the 19 public high schools that serve large portions of Spokane County, 15 were ranked in the top half.

The annual rankings are based on six metrics, two of which attempt to address varying demographic challenges.

Half of each school’s score is based on college readiness – that is, the proportion of 12th-grade students who earned a qualifying score on at least one Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam – and overall proficiency in state assessments in subjects that may be required to pass for graduation.

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

The rankings come with another caveat. Because assessment data from the COVID-impacted 2019-20 school year was not available, U.S. News incorporated mathematics and reading assessment results from the three previous years’ rankings instead.

Only five others – North Central, Ferris, West Valley, Central Valley, Mead and University – made the top 100. Most of the rest ranked between 100th and 200th among 347 schools.

Lewis and Clark isn’t the highest-ranked high school east of the Cascades. That distinction belongs to tiny Bridgeport High School, which ranks 18th in the state. It got there by achieving 62% passing scores in reading and graduating 88% of its students last year despite 95% of its students being economically disadvantaged.

Pullman ranks 31st overall and Davenport 34th.

The state’s top-rated school, the Tesla STEM Academy in Redmond, also ranked 12th nationally.

Six of the top seven schools are in the well-heeled Seattle suburbs of Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond.

Kootenai County’s public high schools fared better when compared to Idaho as a whole, with four of five ranking in the top 25%. Of the 219 schools in Idaho, Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy ranks second, behind North Star Charter Academy in Eagle.

Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, while No. 2 in Idaho, is No. 171 nationally. By comparison, Lewis and Clark is 2,679th nationally.

Coeur d’Alene High School finished 13th in the state, Timberlake 42nd, Lake City 43rd, Lakeland 52nd and Post Falls 63rd.

U.S. News has been rating high schools since 2007, but the rankings have been criticized as being too narrowly focused on reading and math scores. As the editors describe it on their website, scoring of schools is “almost entirely rooted in students’ performance on mathematics and reading/language arts state assessments.”

Also, some critics have said the rankings worsen inequalities because they drive privileged parents to compete against each other in the real estate market to buy homes near “good” schools.

Meanwhile, lower-rated schools suffer harm to their reputation and serve increasingly disadvantaged students.

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