Why TABS Doesn’t Rank Schools

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We’re often asked why TABS doesn’t rank schools. The short answer? It’s all about fit. The long answer? Here goes…

As we all know, one can find web sites (frequently run by for-profit groups) that rank schools by the average SAT college admission test scores of their students or graduates, or by other individual measures. We feel that this practice borders on the unethical; the information provided is certainly misleading. We do not rank schools, period—by test scores, by any other single metric, or by any formula or synthesis of metrics.

TABS Guided Search
Robust search tools on BoardingSchools.com

The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) is the membership association for independent college-preparatory boarding schools in North America. Well over 90 percent of such schools belong. The fact that each school is independent, with its own history, mission, board of trustees, curriculum, and more suggests the rich variety of programs and settings one can find among our members. How valid would it be, for example, to compare a music & arts academy to a military school based only on their average SAT scores? How valid would it be to compare a school with a progressive curriculum that emphasizes projects and demonstrations to a school with a traditional curriculum that emphasizes content mastery based only on average entrance test scores?

Independent schools, whether boarding or day schools, offer an enormous variety that one simply does not find among public schools. We encourage prospective students and parents to explore schools that promise a good fit for the student and parents, based on their own goals and preferences. In fact, we offer several robust search tools on our website BoardingSchools.com that allow families to search by a variety of criteria to find said fit.

It should be noted that while we don’t rank schools, we don’t discourage comparing schools. Our website provides a guided search tool that allows for direct comparisons within search results of up to five member schools at a time. The tool displays side-by-side comparisons of a variety of factors, however, and not a ranking of just one. Judging a school by its place in one or more single-measure ranking does not, we believe, clarify choices. In fact, it probably obscures them.

As for ranking schools by their average SAT score, here are just a few of the good reasons NOT to do it:

1.   There is absolutely nothing official about the average SAT scores displayed on the for-profit web sites. The “school review” web sites simply accept what schools send them, and schools can send them whatever they want. Schools that try to be honest and accurate can lose out to other schools that calculate their average SAT scores more strategically.

2.   There are a variety of methods for calculating “average” SAT scores. The for-profit web sites make no distinction among them. Does one include post-graduate students in the averaging, for example? …how about juniors? …what about sophomores? What if a school pays its top-achieving international students to take the SAT even if they have no intention of attending college in the United States? Students may take the SAT more than once: which scores should be counted …the first ones? …the highest ones? SATs are administered throughout the year, and students choose when to take them. At what time of year should the averaging be done?

3.   Average SAT scores of a school’s seniors or graduates are only outcome measures, and cannot represent the academic value added by a school. A high school with high average SAT scores might have done a fantastic job increasing the academic achievement of students who arrived freshman year at average academic achievement levels. Or, the school might have recruited freshmen already at very high academic achievement levels and done very little to increase their academic achievement the next four years.

For another perspective on this very topic, check out National Association of Independent School President John Chubb’s blog post, Bad Data.

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