Schools 2009: Ranking Methodology

Philadelphia magazine researchers first looked at SAT data for public high schools in our eight-county area (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania; Burlington, Camden and Gloucester in New Jersey). Schools whose average total SAT score fell outside of the top 75 were removed from consideration.

For the remaining schools, we collected data in the following additional areas: enrollment; percentage of graduates going to a two- or four-year college; percentage of 11th-grade students ranked proficient or above in state assessment tests (in Pennsylvania, the PSSA; in New Jersey, the HSPA); number of subjects in which students took AP exams; number of varsity sports; number of clubs and activities; student-faculty ratio; overall expenditure per student; percentage of expenditures dedicated to instruction; teacher education level; and percentage of students eligible for free lunch.

Information came from school websites and school district officials; the Pennsylvania department of education website; the New Jersey department of education website; and

We then sent our data to George Recck, a statistical expert at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He calculated a standardized value for each school for each category. (An inverse standardized value was used for the following categories: students-to-AP subjects; students-to-varsity sports; students-to-clubs & activities, and student/teacher ratio. This is due to the fact that a lower value would be considered better than a higher value.) If a school had no data for a particular category, the mean of the category was substituted. Then, predetermined weights were applied to each category to compute an overall standardized Z-score for each school. The following weights were used for each category:

SAT-Verbal: 5%
SAT-Math: 5%
SAT-Writing: 5%
State Assessment Test Average: 15%
Students to AP Tests: 10%
% Going to College: 15%
Student-to-Varsity Sports: 5%
Student-to-Clubs/Activities: 5%
Student/Teacher Ratio: 10%
Teacher Post-Secondary Education: 5%
Overall Expenditure Per Student: 10%
Instructional Expenditure Percentage: 5%
Free Lunch Percentage: 5%
TOTAL: 100%

Around The Web

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  • Bev

    I would be curious to know where Spring-Ford (Montco) came in. I was surprised not to see us on your list.

  • glenn

    Interesting that you choose to reward schools for spending more money than others, regardless of results. I notice that Haddonfield (#1) spends $5,000 per year less than the number 1 and number 3 schools. That should be a plus, not a minus, given the excellent results achieved.

  • Mark

    The omission of Moorestown (NJ) HS is either an error in data analysis or a flawed methodology. Consistently ranked as one of the top 3 public high schools in southern NJ for years, and sending many of its graduates to top universities, I wonder why it was not included in the list?

  • Josh

    Is this omission a conspiracy? Was that lack of Haddonfield spending due to a majority of money being paid to Philadelphia Magazine? With Moorestown not on this list, the facts seem to be adding up. I demand an investigation on this topic.
    -Moorestown Senior

  • j

    It is not a mystery, more likely a data error, unreconciled by an out of area survey preparer who wouldn’t know Haddonfield from Haddon Heights or Moorestown from Moorestown Friends. Embarrassing that your mag would right an article on schools and get a failing grade on the big test. Moorestown succeeds routinely with a diverse income and racial mix, great school spirit and a high acheiving student body. Good test takers also show their work but you conveniently failed to include the inputs to the calcs for all to check veracity.

  • Jennifer

    Don’t take it so personally. Moorestown is indeed a great school. But your posting shows that spell-check can’t save all efforts in WRITING. Next year I’m sure you’ll be back on the list. Hey, notice a Jersey school can’t possibly be #1 — even tho’ they manage to get really good scores spending way less! Something clearly lacking in methodology there.

  • Mika

    Masterman has the highest % to college, the highest SAT, second high PA and lowest spending per student!(in top 10) and you consider this …8th in ranking? Weird method of ranking, indeed!

  • neil

    The exclusion of Moorestown from this list makes the entire ranking questionable. As a longterm resident of Moorestown and parent of high school alumni, I am acutely aware of the high school’s excellence. Considering the average SAT scores (equivalent to Haddonfield and Cherry Hill East)and the hundreds of graduates accepted yearly at top-tier colleges and universities, Moorestown’s absence from the list was at worst, a silly oversight, or worst, the product of substandard reporting. Moorestown will continue to be a destination for young families interested in the best in public education. Did I spell all of that correctly?

  • Nancy James

    Haddonfield’s SAT scores are incorrectly reported – the numbers were switched for reading and math. According to the Haddonfield’s BOE report in November 2008 the scores were as follows: V: (Critical Reading) 573; M: 580; W: 575. And not V: 580 and M: 573 as the article incorrectly posted.
    This data was presented by the BOE and can be viewed at:
    Would this change their ranking to #4?

  • Rob

    So typical of Moorestown residents, blame everyone else when things don’t go their way. I’m sure that Moorestown would be right near #1 if the list was for top snobbish, elitist attitude schools. And no, before anyone posts something, we are not jealous.

  • Jacob

    Did those two things mean nothing? Central High has 98% of students going to college, and a 99 PA, higher than any other school on the list. Not to mention Northeast High winning for Diversity. Did you even look at Central’s students, or notice that their Indian Pakistani club is much larger than Northeast’s?

  • Robert

    Finally, Cinnaminson gets some recognition. Excellent academics, terrific sports, outstanding music and marching band. Surprised Moorestown is missing, but the best kept secret in South Jersey is now out of the bag.

  • Anonymous

    Though we broke out the component scores for the printed chart, for ranking purposes we used only the combined score. Accordingly, the mistake did not affect Haddonfield’s position in the ranking.

    — Tim Haas, Online Editor

  • Kevin

    The executive editor of Philadelphia Magazine issued a letter of apology to the Moorestown school superintendant for omitting Moorestown. It can be viewed here:

  • Tom

    I have to agree with others that spending per student is questionable as a ranking criteria. I might consider it somewhat useful, but certainly not 10%. More importantly, the free lunch % being given a weighting of 5% (as much as any single SAT portion) is just plain silly. It’s great that they provide such a thing, but for most parents it’s a meaningless statistic.

  • j

    Letter of apology??? Come on…
    Add to that the rank that Moorestown SHOULD have been given. Make it right!

  • Sixth

    OMG Like why is free lunch even a criteria? Does this mean that poor kids = bad skool?

  • Rob

    I hold this to be a silly situation, it seems that what is used as a 5% criteria is whether kids have free lunch or not. Does tis mean that the poor are worse schools or better schools? Can you please explain?

  • Joan

    It is absolutely ourageous that you have not included Moorestown in your list. What kind of research office do you have? Obviously the rest of the list is open to questions.

  • Scott

    It comes as no surprise that THE Mainline magazine skews to the left for its friends, Harriton and Lower Merion. Hardly a fan of Phila. schools, Masterman, St. Joe’s and Central consistantly blow away the others.

  • Deb

    Last year, Haverford High School was 13th on the list , but Philadelphia Magazine failed to even include Haverford Township’s scores when crunching the data. Haverford High School’s test scores, SAT scores, teacher/student ratio and other criteria show that Haverford Township public schools belong high on the list. While Philadelphia Magazine plans to run a correction in the October issue, this is not enough. This kind of flawed journalism should be corrected by retracting the original article and replacing it with a CORRECTED report on this website. Re-running the data to include ALL the schools missed in the first round and re-publishing the corrected report is the only responsible thing to do. Otherwise, Philadelphia Magazine truly discredits itself.

  • Fake
  • Council

    All of the statistical should be available on line

  • dee

    53 out of how many schools were evaluated

  • Alexander

    My research shows that approximately half of the variation in a school’s achievement scores is directly related to the school population’s income level. Free lunch percentage should be given 50% weight in your calculation, not 5%.

  • Elaine

    How are the weights of each indicator determined?