Minnesota school ranking grades districts on student body diversity, but leaves it out of academics

As I have written before, school rankings should be viewed with a grain of salt. Looking into what measures the ranking includes — and doesn’t include — is an important first step toward understanding why a particular school, or district, is listed where it is.

Case in point is the 2023 Best School Districts in Minnesota ranking by Niche, an online platform that “connect[s] colleges and schools with students and families.” Niche has ranked Minnesota school districts by grading them on a variety of categories that then factor into an overall grade. The categories include academics, diversity, teachers, college prep, clubs & activities, and administration.

What I found interesting is that the “diversity” category primarily grades districts on how racially and economically diverse their student bodies are, which schools cannot control.

But when it comes to academics, student diversity in this ranking system is ignored. This can disguise educational outcomes and not paint the full picture of how well the district is helping students learn and grow.

Take the Hopkins school district. It received an “A” for diversity and a “B+” for academics. The district’s student body is fairly diverse, with about half of its student body comprised of students of color and the other half comprised of white students. But aggregated reading and math test scores don’t account for this same socioeconomic makeup. This can make a district that’s struggling to help all students grow academically look comparable to other districts that are more academically rigorous, but drop a letter grade or two because they do not tick the same socioeconomic and racial diversity boxes.

Also included in academics is a district’s graduation rate, which can help boost a district’s grade for academics even though graduation rates are not necessarily an indication of actual learning.

School rankings are often looked at to determine whether or not schools are academically rigorous. That’s often measured by test scores. But as my colleague John Phelan has even written, before latching on to a ranking, take a look at how the ranking was constructed.