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US News & World Report releases latest school rankings and BRHS gets high marks
Posted On:
Sunday, August 12, 2018

U.S. News & World Report released its annual report of the best high schools in America earlier this week. In the state of Alabama, there were few surprises in the top 10, with Loveless Academic Magnet Program (LAMP) in Montgomery being named top high school in the state.

At the same time, Benjamin Russell High School was awarded a bronze medal by the periodical, as well as being named the 54th best high school in Alabama. This recognition stood in direct contradiction to the state report card that was made available in early February, which gave BRHS a score of 69, only a step or two above the schools that were labeled “failing” by the Alabama Department of Education.

“We’re excited. Any time we are recognized for something positive, we’re excited,” Benjamin Russell Principal Dr. Anthony Wilkinson said. “This shows that what we’re doing here, we’re on the right path.”

“I’m happy for the teachers and staff at Benjamin Russell to be recognized like this,” Alexander City School Superintendent Dr. Darrell Cooper said. “I want to celebrate the fact that this is a positive for us. I know we have a good high school.”

Unlike the state report card released by the Department of Education that primarily focused on how last year’s sophomore class did on the ACT ASPIRE test, the measuring stick used by U.S. News & World Report used four key factors. Beginning with if students at a high school exceeded the average expectations for a student of that state in math and science, the magazine then looked at math and science assessment scores solely among students from a historically underserved group— namely Hispanics, African-Americans and low-income students— and if they outperformed the state average, the graduation rate of the high school and if the school offered AP and International Baccalaureate classes to students, as well as the students’ performances in those classes to calculate a College Readiness Index rating.

“There were several things about the state report card that a lot of educators didn’t agree with,” Wilkinson said. “When the report card came out, people were surprised about our score. This ranking, this reinforces our stance that we’re doing the right thing.”

Cooper also expressed the sentiment that there were issues with the way the state report card was organized and implemented, including how multiple changes in leadership in the Department of Education over the past four years led to the initial designs for the report card going through multiple changes, with some factors being added and many others being taken out until reaching its final format.

“The report card was based on one test for one grade,” he said. “There are a lot of things that you can’t measure with a test.”

After learning where the high school ranked in the latest from U.S. News & World Report, several Benjamin Russell students expressed a positive opinion about this recent ranking and recognition for the high school.

“We all worked hard, so this ranking looks good,” sophomore Lydia Ballard said. “BR is a great school.”

“This came out and contradicted the state report card. This shows we’re not a failing school,” senior Jaden Tuck said. “I believe this is more accurate. It gives people that were on edge after the report card came out a little bit of ease.

“There’s no way you can measure a school from just sitting in a board room.”

“They’re not physically in the classroom with the students,” Ballard added.

After taking a look at the top 10 schools in the state, which included high schools from wealthier areas like Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Auburn and Madison, junior Cely Sammons expressed the opinion that having students at Benjamin Russell who may have a more affluent background as well as those who may not be has been beneficial to the school as a whole. Tuck agreed with this sentiment, saying that he has reached out to try and assist his classmates as best as he could.

Along with this, Sammons felt Wilkinson deserved a lot of credit for helping to make the school what it has become today, a feeling which was echoed by other students.

“He’s pulled us out of our comfort zone,” sophomore Gabby Coughlin said.

“He’s helped prepare us more for situations we’ll have to deal with in the future,” Ballard said.

While administrators and students both felt the school had room to improve, being ranked 54th in the state by a publication as respected for its rankings as U.S. News & World Report was something to feel good about.

“Is there room for improvement? Yes,” Cooper said. “However, there are a lot of positives at the high school. This ranking says we’re better than 86 percent of the high schools in Alabama.”

“I’m excited to be ranked where we are,” Wilkinson said. “This validates what our teachers, our staff and our students try to do every day.

“The teachers we have here, I’d stack them up against anybody.”

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the students,” Tuck said.

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