Pennsylvania schools ranked 16th among all 50 states in a new study, with the Keystone State getting a higher ranking (10th) for safety and a lower ranking (28th) for “quality.”
The study released by WalletHub looked at 21 “relevant metrics” and broke them into two groups, one used for a “quality” score that made up 60 percent of the overall ranking and one for “safety” which accounted for 40 percent. The bulk of the data came from federal databases, but the report also used the “Top 700 Best U.S. Schools” rankings by U.S. News & World Report and scores for the ACT and SAT tests.
While the report looks at some data for elementary grades, including reading and math test results for grades 4 and 8, the bulk of the data relates only to high schools.
The report also gives the top five and bottom five states in eight different categories: dropout rate, pupil-teacher ratio, percent of high school students threatened or injured, bullying rates, and score results in reading, math, ACT and SAT test.
Pennsylvania landed in the top five in one of those categories, having the fourth-lowest percentage of high school students threatened or injured. This metric looks specifically at students in grades 9-12 who reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.
While WalletHub gives a general list of data sources, it doesn’t post specific data for each state, and doesn’t post specific sources for specific data. The percentage of high school students threatened or injured appears to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, though that data is also posted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Both are cited as sources for data in the study.
Like most school safety data, the numbers are self-reported, either through a federal survey or through a state data collection system. Pennsylvania began collecting public data in the 1994-95 school year as “School Violence and Weapons Possession” reports. The released data was later re-named “Safe Schools” reports.
The state data has always been a bit problematic because different districts could interpret offenses differently: One school’s assault could be another’s harassment. Local data suggested — and in the early days of the system, local superintendents confirmed — that reporting could even vary from school to school. The state took substantial steps to make the data more uniform over the years, with more specific definitions of each type of incident.
Large urban districts can also dramatically skew state-level data. For example, when it comes to weapons possession — part of the “threatened or injured” metric — in 2015-16 safe school reports, Pennsylvania had a total of 2,465 reports of weapons in schools. Of those, 1,116 — 45.3 percent — were in Philadelphia School District. By comparison, Luzerne County’s 11 districts combined reported 188 incidents of weapons possession, 7.6 percent of the state total.
And while Philadelphia reported nine of the state’s 36 firearm cases, Luzerne County reported zero.
The report is available at wallethub.com/edu