Westfield High School Ranked #49 by NJ Monthly Magazine

Several other local schools made the list, including New Providence High School, which was ranked #1 in the state among public high schools.

Just days after The Star Ledger’s Inside New Jersey selected  as one of the state's “Top Performing High Schools,” New Jersey Monthly Magazine places the school at #49 in the state.

However, the ranking continues a downgrade in the school's fortunes — at least by the magazine's measures. NJ Monthly ranked Westfield High as #41 in 2010, #27 in 2008 and #22 in 2006.

Nearby New Providence High School claimed the top spot. So, just what contributed to its high marks?

“The school’s average class size is down sharply since the 2010 rankings, and its math scores in the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) have improved significantly. This at a time of state budget cuts and local belt-tightening,” according to the NJ Monthly Magazine article, featured in the September issue, which hits newstands on Aug. 28.

NJ Monthly mades changes to its methodology this year, including a new graduation-rate calculation, eliminating student/computer ratio as a factor and increasing the weighting for data on test results, according to the article announcing the top public high schools.

Westfield Schools Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan believes these changes account for the shift in the school's placement.

"The Star Ledger’s Inside New Jersey’s article – “Top Performing High Schools” - based its criteria solely on academic performance," Dolan pointed out. "Using these measures, Westfield High School ranked as the top performing comprehensive public high school in Union County.  (Vocational and technical schools were also included in this listing.)

"New Jersey Monthly’s rankings included not only student achievement criteria, but also non-performance indicators, such as student/faculty ratio. Focusing on the academic indicators, Westfield High School ranks 17th statewide in combined SAT scores; 12th in HSPA Language Arts (Advanced Proficiency); and 13th in HSPA Mathematics (Advanced Proficiency) among the 328 public high schools in the state."

WHS Principal Peter Renwick said he is proud of the school being ranked as the top performing comprehensive public high school in Union County in The Star Ledger’s report but added that he is surprised at NJ Monthly "placing considerable value on non-performance indicators."

"Frankly, I question a formula that places schools with lower academic performance well above Westfield High School," Renwick stated. "The bottom line is that Westfield High School students continue the long-standing tradition of academic excellence. Most important, I continue to be impressed with their accomplishments in all areas, including fine arts, extra-curricular activities, community service, and athletics. 

Dolan invited readers to examine the categories in New Jersey Monthly and "make careful comparisons of each school."

"Readers will see that Westfield outperforms many of the schools that appear earlier in the overall rankings," she stated. "The data provided in both magazines confirm that the Westfield Public Schools continue the tradition of excellence in academic performance that will prepare our students well for their future." 

(To see more from NJ Monthly, view the attached PDF document.)

In addition to Westfield and New Providence, several other area high schools were ranked as follows:

New Jersey Monthly Magazine Top Public High Schools

Name 2012 Ranking 2010 Ranking Summit 15 25 Jonathan Dayton 26 40 Governor Livingston 36 24 A.L. Johnson 40 101 Cranford 51 13 Scotch Plains 60 62 Chatham 20 8 Roselle Park 122 190 David Brearley 127 113 Elizabeth 148 294 Hillside 166



The categories and indicators used in the ranking, listed on NJ Monthly Magazine's web site, are as follows:

School Environment: The sum of the standardized rank scores for average class size; student/faculty ratio; percentage of faculty with advanced degrees; and number of AP tests offered, which was calculated as a ratio of grade 11 and 12 enrollment in order not to penalize smaller schools. (Senior class size is shown in the published charts for reference only; it is not part of the ranking calculation.)

Student Performance: The sum of the standardized rank scores for average combined SAT score; percentage of students showing advanced proficiency on HSPA; and students scoring a 3 or higher on AP tests as a percentage of all juniors and seniors.

Student Outcomes: A single score based on a new graduation-rate calculation (four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate) introduced by New Jersey in 2011, as mandated by the federal government. Essentially, the adjusted cohort formula divides a school’s number of four-year graduates by the number of first-time ninth-graders who entered the cohort four years earlier. For further information, visit state.nj.us/education/data/.

Vocational schools: Schools defined in this category by the state Department of Education were ranked using the same methodology as other public schools, but with two exceptions. No average class size is available for these schools, since many students are shared with mainstream schools. Similarly, there is insufficient data on AP tests.

Special Notes: Some schools were missing only AP-related data, particularly the number of students who scored a 3 or higher on AP tests. For these schools (which had fewer than 10 students who took an AP test) a value was imputed for purposes of the ranking using an average of other schools in their DFG. Also, for certain districts where there were obvious errors in the data (Midland Park, Elizabeth and Paterson), corrections were obtained directly from the districts.

BOE Watcher August 22, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Maybe the Board can sue NJ monthly like they sued the state to protect Dolan's illegal contract. Schools get worse; administrators get more money. Sign me up!
Gary McCready August 22, 2012 at 05:05 AM
After looking at the chart, and even after scraping the data off the PDF and putting it into Excel, it is hard to see how Westfield ranked 49th out of the top 50. Westfield ranks 30th in class size, but the student/teacher ratio is 44th – perhaps some schools might include teachers that don't teach classes. Westfield ranks 35th in advanced degree earned percentage - more degrees, higher pay.. Westfield ranks 12th in SAT score, and second to New Providence in union county. I know last year Westfield was highest in the county, so perhaps the data there is old. Westfield ranks 25th in AP tests offered - some schools offer a test w/o the course. On the percent of AP tests with a grade of 3 plus, Westfield ranks 19th, and does not limit who can take a course like other schools. For the state advanced proficiency ratings, Westfield ranks 9th for language, and 10th for math - the best indicators of implemenation of the state curriculum. In the state graduation rate metric Westfield ranks 21st overall. Based upon all the above, I would assume Westfield would be closer to 25. NJ Monthly does not release the exact data used for the calculation. I would take the rankings with a lot of salt.
BOE Watcher August 22, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Gary, why are you still carrying water for the Board? The changes that NJ Monthly made since the last round should have helped Westfield's rank, not hurt it. They began weighting four year colleges over technical schools and junior colleges. They eliminated computer to student ratio as a metric. They changed how they weight student/teacher ratio. All should have helped. But the Board still protects failed administrators and forces fields on the taxpayers at the request of a few leagues.
Gary McCready August 22, 2012 at 06:22 AM
I agree that the changes should have moved Westfield up - but, since NJ monthly does not release the "raw score" that results in the ranking nor the data and the formula that gets you there and none of the other variables seem to be out of whack for Westfield, it really does make you wonder how the ranking was calculated. And I don't think the "four year" in the methodology above refers to colleges - just a graduation rate that would not take into account students moving out of the district.
BOE Watcher August 22, 2012 at 06:50 AM
Read the article. "The data for students going to four-year colleges was given extra weight, making it a potent driver of the results." It's not about graduation rate. http://njmonthly.com/articles/towns_and_schools/top-new-jersey-high-schools-2012-.html
Miss Logical August 22, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Hey BOE Watcher- Put your money where your mouth is and do something about it- Join the BOE or show up at meetings and voice your complaints in person instead of your anonymous rants here- Everyone has an opinion but nobody showed up to run for the Board this year and actually do the hard work......
Mike August 22, 2012 at 12:01 PM
WHS has dropped from a respectable 22nd to a dismal 49th in six years.  In corporate America, that is failure, and the taxpayers who support this failure recognize it as such. In 2010, this was the excuse for the decline: "We read the directions literally in this district....if you read it literally you included all of your students. But if you read it literally you did not use all of your teachers." In 2012, we got this excuse: ''New Jersey Monthly’s rankings included not only student achievement criteria, but also non-performance indicators, such as student/faculty ratio.' Like a teenager making excuses for declining grades, the administration keeps blaming everything and everyone but themselves. What is next, blame the students? Blame the taxpayers? Maybe it is time to look inward, agree there is a problem and make some changes to stop the slide.
BOE Watcher August 22, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Miss Logical, How do you know I'm not involved and how do you know I have not run for the board or spoke at meetings?
ddougyy August 22, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Anyone who thinks we should be ashamed for being ranked 49th should take a closer look at what these rankings are really based on. I am a product of the Westfield school system, and in no world can Westfield and Cranford be ranked that closely together. I wouldn't take these too seriously. Westfield is ranked in a very high group the the state, and Cranford is not.
DJ August 22, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Doug, you should realize that in the real world people are accountable for their job performance. The people running the Westfield Public Schools have presided over a precipitous drop ranking. You may be a fine product of the schools, but the administrators are still failures. Even good coaches get fired after a few losing seasons. Can the current administration even point to a period of winning seasons?
August West August 22, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Or we would have ranked higher if we had them.
fred norris August 22, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Can we really rely on these magazines to determine the success of WHS and its administrators? Can't we look at the successes of our students scores, colleges attended and general satisfaction of the parents and students - these are the people who know WHS best. After all, how can you think these rankings are reliable if one report has WHS as the top in Union County, and another has them ranked 49? This seems like an assessment that is not valid, and isn't worth the mud slinging seen above. Oh, and BOE Watcher, there are many colleges in the area who offer masters programs in supervision and administration - think it's easy and profitable - enroll! Here's a link to get you started. http://collegeprowler.com/search/st-nj/sm1-educational-administration-and-supervision/
ddougyy August 22, 2012 at 05:28 PM
DJ- That would depend on what you define as a winning season I suppose. My point being, is that these ratings are based on other things not related to academics. Take Cranford for example: A drop from 13 to 51 in a two year period. How could so much have changed in two years to cause such a difference? Dr. Petix, who used to be principle at WHS, said not to pay attention to the ratings from NJ Monthly, even during times when we were rated very highly.
Mike August 22, 2012 at 07:11 PM
One frequently overlooked point of these surveys is directly linked to something every Westfield resident should care about: property value. The quality of the Westfield school system has long been one of the most attractive aspects of this town; it draws new families to town from the NY Metropolitan area as well as those relocating from across the country. Most of us were happy to pay a premium to move here because of the reputation of great schools. Does anyone think that a new family researching towns to move to is going to be impressed by this historic trend? When the administration fails in this way repeatedly, it has an negative economic impact on every citizen in Westfield. Please don't bother to argue whether the survey is accurate or not or meaningful or not, because neither really matters as much as perception. The results (valid or not) are out there, and the town is worse because of it.
Gary McCready August 22, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Mike, your comment really belongs back in the pre-internet age, where the discussion would be happening in a bar talking about something published none of us had the power to change. Now, we have that power, if no more than commenting in forums like this where we can, pointing out how this (accurate or not) ranking does not wholly reflect on why people choose to live in Westfield. Hopefully, the town will be better in the future, as only the folks intelligent enough to see through rankings like NJ Monthly's will move here. I, for one, will not simply quit and accept a cop-out by NJ Monthly to produce a more meaningful ranking. The enjoy selling magazines if for no other reason for the controversy something like this provokes.
Gary McCready August 22, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Watcher, Yes, you are correct - there are two "four-year" metrics in use, but NJ Monthly is not publishing four-year college plans rate; see my next response.
Gary McCready August 22, 2012 at 08:44 PM
I believe there are at least a few things that we can agree on: - NJ Monthly changed the way ratings were developed, so a strict year-to-year comparison is not possible - NJ Monthly is not clear enough (so it can be reproduced) on the methodology quoted above that produces the ranking. - There is no "generally acceptable" broad-based ranking of high schools - There are variables that cannot be objectively measured that would factor into how "good" a high school is Would I rather that Westfield be ranked #1 - of course. Should the administration periodically review how they are doing related to other schools and come up with an improvement plan on key areas - absolutely! Should that be entirely driven by the NJ Monthly survey (which has no known basis) - no. What we should be asking, regardless of a #1 or #49 ranking, is how WHS is assessing itself, and how have they improved performance over the years on key metrics. I would ask the administration's view on class size, the student/teacher ratio, and if the 4-year college entrance rate is acceptable (for the latest data, WHS was at 84%, New Providence was at 86% - see below URL). In fact, if you compare the numbers NY Monthly reports between WHS and New Providence, there is not that much of a difference - significant? BTW NP only offers 19 AP's, URL for the overall data: http://www.state.nj.us/education/data/ College entrance data : http://www.state.nj.us/education/data/grd/grd11/county.htm
DJ August 22, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Doug, You and the former principal are correct that these ratings are all inherently flawed. But you said yourself, the school was rated highly under previous superintendents and principals. The downward trend is what's disturbing, not the current low number. Current administrators whine about NJ monthly while talking up the Star-Ledger and Newsweek ratings. This Renwick guy contradicts himself in one statement! "he is surprised at NJ Monthly 'placing considerable value on non-performance indicators....Most important, I continue to be impressed with their accomplishments in all areas, including fine arts, extra-curricular activities, community service, and athletics.'" Is he aware that all those things he listed are "non-performance indicators?"
Mike August 22, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Gary, please don't lecture me on the information age. I'm old enough to remember what acquiring information was like pre-WWW, thank you, but I think that you over-estimate the average persons willingness to dig into the detail behind a magazines criteria and process; most people will read the survey and stop there. You are kidding yourself if you think that this survey will not be a negative check mark for people considering moving to town, but that doesn't surprise me, because you seem willing to blindly defend the system and the administration that got us here in the first place.
Gary McCready August 22, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Mike, you are right, this will be a negative check mark (nor did I imply that it would be ignored) but we do have the option of responding in hopes of clearing it the misconcpetion more than we did pre-internet age. And no, I don't blindly defend the system - I'm all for getting as much information out there to let people make up their own minds. Yes, people can be lazy and not go any further in their searches, but if enough rebuttals are out there, at least there is the chance they will be read. If one wants to.. And "performance indicators" are just in the eye of the beholder - everyone searches for whatever they want to find...
Fercho August 23, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Mike, I'm with you on this one. Like it or not, NJ Monthly has built a pretty strong 'brand' with it's rankings. It's one of the many reference points that NY metro transplants use. Furthermore, realtors/sellers and BOE use the NJ Monthly ranking to justify some heavy price points and plenty of PR (I guess the huge #1 NJ school banner they have across Millburn high will have to be taken down). Also, it's no secret that Westfield schools continue to be overcrowded with schools rezoning. When shopping with our realtor, she mentioned that there is no guarantee that we would be zoned at a given elementary school. Something just isn't right. No one here is claiming WHS is in chaos. All some folks are pointing out is why aren't the administrators at least thinking about what they can do to improve their image/rating as opposed to placing the blame elsewhere.
fred norris August 23, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Mike, this strand and the like are what detracts from people's perception of Westfield schools, not NJ Monthly.
BOE Watcher August 23, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Fred and I finally agree on something. This thread doesn't make the Westfield Schools look good. A self-proclaimed product of Westfield High School can't tell principal from principle.
Mike August 23, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Fred, you are correct, a string of comments in which people like you blame the survey and atttack the critics of those responsible for the downward trend instead of focusing on the root causes of the problem certainly will detract from people's perception of the town. You have convinced me; it is better to just pretend that everything is fine. Oh, thank you, I feel so much better now that I am kidding myself.
fred norris August 23, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Any time, Mike. I guess throwing any benefit of the doubt towards the schools is counterintuitive on the Patch.
Jodi Luminiello August 23, 2012 at 01:33 PM
This really is an amazing town with fantastic opportunities for the growth of our children. Kuddos Westfield!
Mike August 23, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Fred, the drop from 22nd to 27th and from 27th to 41st emptied my 'benefit of doubt' account. The drop from 41st to 49th tells me that the previous drops weren't flukes. But enough said here; I now have a better understanding why nothing will change.
South Westfielder August 25, 2012 at 11:29 AM
I thought the changes that were made by voters to the BOE members were supposed to fix this. I guess the change agents are not as effective as they thought they would be.
Joe September 08, 2012 at 06:25 AM
I have looked at the numbers in the PDF closely, comparing to other schools, and it is incomprehensible how Westfield could be ranked so low - Westfield exceeds other schools, that are ranked significantly higher, in 7 of the 9 categories, including all results in Performance and Outcome criteria (which are weighted more), yet is still ranked much lower than these schools. Well, I think I have figured it out. The one criteria that is absolutely killing us is number of AP tests AS A RATIO OF ENROLLMENT...this is an extremely important distinction. Our ratio of 21 courses for an enrollment of 450 is very low and one of the worst ratios in the rankings. Unfortunately this is a bogus method to calculate and greatly hurts schools with large enrollments. I do agree an adjustment needs to be made so as to not hurt schools with smaller enrollments, but a straight ratio calculation is inaccuratte. Think of it this way...the most tests offered in the state is 31. If School A with an enrollment of 250 students offered 31 tests, and School B with 500 students offers the same 31 tests, School A would receive a much higher score despite both schools offering the most tests available...School B couldn't do more in this category but is hurt by its larger enrollment. The current calculation assumes if you double enrollment you should double number of tests offered, which is wrong. If this criteria were removed I estimate Westfield would jump into the top 25. Continued below..
Joe September 08, 2012 at 06:31 AM
Continuing my observation from previous comment RE AP Tests....It seems some schools are manipulating this figure by offering tests without the courses, perhaps Westfield should do the same. I agree that unfortunately perception is reality, but the reality is also that Westfield results are very very strong, and ridiculous calculations and rankings do not change the fact that our kids, and my daughter at WHS, are receiving a wonderful education and are afforded great educational opportunity.  Our administration should be credited for these strong results...if anything they are guilty of not manipulating data and playing the game as well as some other towns may be.


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