The September issue of Los Angeles Magazine included an article entitled “Best High Schools 2008.” The authors included Campbell Hall in their “Honor Roll” of the top 47 high schools in the city (public and private), but not in the list of the top 10. According to the article, schools were judged “based on a weighted average of scores assigned to a slightly different set of variables” than the magazine used for public schools, “including the average SAT score for students enrolled at the school. If a school was missing only its SAT result, the number was projected through a technique known as imputation.”
I have been asked a number of times since that article came out, why Campbell Hall did not divulge our average SAT scores. Consonant with the recommendation from the President of the National Association of Independent Schools (see below), Campbell Hall does not play the school rankings game. It is very well known among professional educators that average SAT scores in particular are a horrible measure of the “value added” of any particular school program. The best way to raise the average SAT or ERB score at a school is to admit students with higher scores, or dismiss those with lower scores, tactics that do indeed occur at schools seeking to raise their profile among anxious parentsin a competitive market. At Campbell Hall, our mission is to deliberately seek out admit, and then support students with a broader range of abilities, from those who test exceptionally well (and are admitted to the most competitive colleges and universities in the country) to those whose gifts lie elsewhere. We have continued this admissions approach as our waiting lists have grown, and will continue to do so in the future, though the selection of students with lower scores hurts our “ranking” on crude numeric scales.
The best and last words on school rankings have been spoken so eloquently by the President of NAIS, Pat Bassett, that I will quote him at length here:
The National Association of Independent Schools is and always has been opposed to the ranking of schools. The "best" school — public, parochial, or independent — is the one that uniquely meets the needs of each particular child.
In the independent school sector, each institution, in its mission statement, defines its own objectives: the kind of program and campus culture the school provides, and often, the qualities that will help a student to succeed there. These schools were not created from one mold. They have different missions, offer different grade ranges, curricular emphases, pedagogical approaches, and extracurricular programs. Some schools are highly competitive by design, others intentionally create a nurturing atmosphere in which certain students will thrive; some focus on the arts, some on mathematics and science, others on outdoor education. Different schools offer programs for different types of students — bright students with learning differences, the gifted, students of average ability, children who face particular challenges.
Independent schools are to be judged, through their rigorous accreditation processes, according to what they individually set out to accomplish. Ranking such wonderfully different schools against one another misrepresents the institutions, misleads consumer-minded parents about the factors that should be considered in the complex process of choosing a school, but most importantly, can hurt children. Ranking elementary and secondary schools is a de facto labeling of vulnerable children and adolescents and is inherently wrong.
The alternative to ranking schools is, admittedly, more labor-intensive, but it is far more reliable. The National Association of Independent Schools, along with 35 partner associations, has developed a checklist to help parents judge the quality of schools. These criteria— rooted in real research, not quick and easy yardsticks— are palpably evident in great schools: high-quality teachers, low student-to-teacher ratios, an ethos of academic challenge for all students, a partnership with parents, and a climate that supports achievement. Find those five qualities in evidence in a school and any parent will be able to find the very short list of "the best schools for my child."
Campbell Hall is not the best school for every child in the city, but 97% of the respondents to last June’s Parent Survey said they would recommend us to their friends. I believe that’s because we do an excellent job meeting students wherever they are, and taking them to the next level. Isn’t that the real value all parents want their child’s school to add?
 “NAIS Statement: On Ranking Schools,” NAIS Board of Directors, January 1 1997, as found at: http://www.nais.org/about/article.cfm?ItemNumber=145361
 Patrick Bassett, “Letter to the Editor of Newsweek,” 6/2/2003; as found at: http://www.nais.org/about/pressrelease.cfm?ItemNumber=144398